Written by Sue Wasserman Tuesday, July 17 2012
Sometimes you don’t know you have the answer until you’ve been asked the question. Few know this better than entrepreneur Katie Hurley. The answer for Hurley, one that would prove to be life and career altering, bubbled to the surface when the physical education major turned massage therapist worked for John Melk, a successful venture capitalist and co-founder of Blockbuster Video.
“He challenged my thought process at every turn, always asking me about what I believed to be relevant and meaningful,” says Hurley.
When Melk received a request for capital from a New York based massage concept, he asked Hurley to review it. Seeing she was unimpressed, he asked how she would do it differently.
“It blew me away that someone had asked me the question, allowing me to share my thoughts,” she recalls. “What flew from my mouth also surprised me.”
Her candid, unrehearsed response not only earned his praise, but his financial support. With his help, Hurley became part of a team that opened a world-class spa in Chicago in 1999.
“The experience,” she says, “helped me gain both a sense of ownership and a sense of being a good steward of an owner’s asset.”
With each passing year, that sense of stewardship has grown only stronger. She is now the co-owner of Maximus Worldwide, an asset management company that helps spas, hospitality and real estate businesses implement exceptional operating standards.
“I own the responsibility of making a profit for our investors,” she says.
Hurley knows, however, there’s much more to increasing revenue than simply implementing successful business systems. She has a visceral understanding that profitability is born of employees and clients that are empowered to be their best. Fostering that potential is her personal passion.
She brings that passion to life at VALEO, a unique spa and wellness center located in downtown Chicago’s J.W. Marriott Hotel. Valeo is Latin for “to be well, powerful, strong, influential.”
This is much more than fluff meets buff. Yes, you can get a massage, mani-pedi, work out in state-of-the-art fitness facilities or reserve time in their Clarity Chamber – arguably the most unique service offered – where a guest can experience a traditional Turkish bath or Moroccan detox experience while lying on a hot marble slab in front of a warm fireplace.
“This experience,” Hurley says, “transports the guest into a state of blissful energy.”
Something much deeper, however, lies beneath the luxurious surface. Hurley believes in pampering with a powerful purpose, helping guests not only feel their best but be their best.
“What makes us unique is our willingness to meet people where they are and find out what they need and desire,” she says. “Our greatest challenge is a guest’s willingness to believe the intentionality of the person on the other side of the phone that wants to create a relevant, meaningful experience.”
This initial consultation provides guests an opportunity to do a self-audit. Over the years, Hurley has embraced the work of Peter Koestenbaum, a globally renowned philosopher and business strategist. She, like he, holds that ethics, vision, courage and reality are critical elements of leadership. She also believes we’re all born with leadership capacity.
“Leadership,” she says, “manifests itself on the outside. It’s the inner space where people need to be supported.” To Hurley, VALEO is the space for leadership with regard to personal care and health. “When guests come in, willing to give us their time; we’re willing to invest in them.”
Part of that investment lies in determining the crossroads at which guests may find themselves, whether personal or professional. “I want to know how they’re contributing to being there, how their employer may be contributing to their being there.”
She sees the four leadership elements as tools that help guests diagnose their reality. Personal care consultants then translate those needs into VALEO services that set them along a path to being better at being themselves.
“One of the reasons we have so few complaints is that we’re essentially asking guests to co-create their experience,” she says. “There is no protocol for massage. We focus on the support they need. It’s important that we be agile to meet guests where they are. Our ultimate goal is to hold the space long enough for guests to serve as their own coach and healer.”
VALEO Express, which delivers services in 10-minute increments, represents Katie’s understanding that time is limited for the majority of her guests.
“You don’t have to go to a resort destination to be yourself,” she says. “While being able to remove all things that might distract you is a beautiful gift, it’s not necessarily practical. We want to help guests suspend time and space for however long they’re here.”
Hurley is equally agile with employees. “Accountability is a choice,” she says. “I like to thank my employees every day for making that choice to show up.”
Possessing both the skill and will to achieve greatness are common traits of VALEO employees. Hurley finds great pleasure working with them to explore the possibilities they stand for.
“Our staff comes with highly vetted skills. If there’s one type of training we do, it’s to invite them to become personal care consultants who can create optimum experiences for our guests.”
She wants employees to have meaningful experiences as well.
“There’s a running joke here that you can’t work here without winding up in my office in tears. I want employees to ‘be’ with all the being they’ve got.”
Clearly, she’s willing to help them get there if they choose to do the work.
Hurley’s success boils down to her recognition that the ideal organizational model is one that balances solid institutional structure with the needs of employees and the community in such a way that healing and greatness can be achieved.
“My goal is to bring that model to life or die trying.”
More women leading the fashion, beauty and spa industries with innovative business strategies to retaining clientele:
Jeni Garrett is taking her spa business from luxury to necessity. Taking the luxury out of a spa visit may sound impossible – almost insane – right? Well, not for Garrett. Learn how she has managed to stick to this mantra and create the world’s only high-end spa chain.
Most women sacrifice comfort for fabulous heels – suck it up and deal with the pain for a flashy pair of pumps. Learn how Anyi Lu’s shoe collection allows us to have it all when it comes to wearing heels.
Jane Wurwand, founder of Dermalogica, knows a thing or two about heading a thriving skin care business through rough times. In this article, she opens up to Womenetics and shares another side of business – the importance of women helping other women by sharing our wealth.
Sue Wasserman is a freelance writer, publicist and nature photographer living near Asheville, N.C. Her passion is writing about people who are passionate about what they do. Most recently, she was the public relations manager for Heery International, a large architectural/engineering firm headquartered in Atlanta, Ga. Her freelance articles have appeared in Southern Living, The New York Times, American Style, Mountain Living, Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Atlanta Business Chronicle and more.