Shangri-La’s Todd Hewitt on developing talent & becoming one of the world’s top spa directors

Todd Hewitt

Todd Hewitt is the Assistant Vice President of Spa at Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, one of the world’s leading hospitality companies.

From Shangri-La’s headquarters in Hong Kong, Mr. Hewitt oversees the group’s CHI and The Spa brands in Shangri-La and Kerry properties worldwide.

Mr. Hewitt possesses a diverse professional background. He grew up on a farm in rural Ontario, Canada, and worked in restaurant management and owned and operated a catering business before becoming a fitness instructor and eventually landing in spa and wellness. He is the former vice-chairman of the board of the International SPA Association (ISPA), a certified aesthetician, massage therapist, and a trained chef. Mr. Hewitt has been named twice by Spa Finder as one of the “Top 10 Spa Directors Worldwide.”

Prior to taking a position at Shangri-La, he held several leadership positions, including Regional Spa Director at Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts. He has more than 20 years of wellness experience including launching multi-million dollar spa facilities and creating luxury spa-oriented experiences for guests. He also has a knack for developing talent and for spotting missed business opportunities.

We asked Todd Hewitt about developing talent, missed business opportunities, and what it takes to become a top spa director.

You have said that you have a talent for “quickly analyzing businesses and seizing missed opportunities.” We’d love to know more about that. Can you tell us about some commonly missed opportunities that you see?

I love to get into the day-to-day operations to experience the workflow, guest experience and other aspects of the business. When you listen to the guests and staff firsthand, you get a totally different perspective of the operation. I typically find that guests are always asking if there is something they can purchase for a friend to make their spa visit more special. The key word is “purchase,” which means extra money in your pocket at the end of the day. Most spas don’t readily have something available such as champagne, birthday cakes, etc. which is so easy to remedy. Staff are always looking for ways to make more money, so by incentivizing them to get guests to willingly spend more is such an easy fix as well. Enhancements, such as eye or face masks, are hugely popular, take no extra time in a treatment and increase the average check. Offer staff compensation to sell enhancements. You will be surprised what a little incentive does to increasing your sales.

How would one go about analyzing one’s own spa for missed opportunities?

Work the reception desk for 3-4 days. And do it without the support of other staff who are likely to jump in and assist. See what guests say. See what they ask for. It is eye opening.

You also said you have a knack for developing talent. What would you say is the key to developing talent?

I love looking into the eyes of individuals who want to learn more or take on more tasks. As difficult as it is to let go of control, give them extra jobs or duties and see how they do. Provide goals and deadlines. And when completed, be honest with them and tell them what you like and what could be improved. Ask what they want to do with their lives and how you can help them get there, even if it doesn’t involve your place of business. This will go a long way over many years.

What characteristics do you look for in talent?

A smile, sense of humor, and eagerness. I don’t care about experience. That can be quickly learned.

Have you some brilliant ideas on how to solve some of the industry’s staffing problems?

I wish I did. I really believe that if you are a fair and honest manager, talent will be attracted to you. It takes time. But we all have reputations. And people want to work in a place where they feel like they are part of a family. And that starts at the top.

You grew up on a farm. Does that shape your leadership style and if so, how?

I grew up on a family dairy farm with a processing plant. We made yogurt, ice cream and packaged milk products. It was a seven day per week operation and I learned all about hard work and never taking a day off. I watched the easy-going attitude of my father with the employees and the hard-nosed business mind of my mother. I experienced how employees reacted to both styles and how they really wanted to enjoy their work, but also know what was expected of them at all times. I believe that I got a little bit of both styles from my parents which has allowed my leadership style to flourish. I always say that the job needs to get done first, but that we can have fun doing it every day. And if we cannot share a laugh at least once per day, then the job is not worth doing.

What would you say is the biggest challenge currently facing spa and wellness – besides staffing?

The spa and wellness landscape is changing so rapidly. Trying to stay on top of trends takes so much time. And just when you think you have it figured out, it changes again. So you really need to keep your eyes and ears open.  

What is your favorite part of your job?

Feeling that I have made a difference – both financially for the company, but also in the lives of those I work with. I love success stories. And I love completing projects ahead of schedule. I really love when an obstacle is put in front of me and I need to figure a way of getting around it to get what I know is best for everyone.

What does it take to be a great spa and wellness leader? To become one of the top spa directors “worldwide”?

I think it takes passion for the job. I jokingly tell people each day that I am off to work, to save the world, one massage at a time. If you have ever thought, “I really don’t feel like going to work today,” then you are in the wrong job. And if the job is difficult, make it work for you. You have to want to learn something new each day and be willing to have your staff teach you something new too.

What’s happening in the industry that you’re excited about?

I love that people are getting more into their health and how to prevent disease. I like the fact that people are beginning to open their minds to new ways of thinking. I have been reading the “Liver Rescue” book by the Medical Medium and following him on IG. I find it all fascinating. And while there is no scientific evidence, it is working well for many people. And this allows people to get more excited for our industry and what we can do to assist them achieve optimal health.

What’s happening at Shangri-La that you’re excited about?

We have so many new projects and hotel openings in the next few years. It is so great to be able to work on these projects and be allowed to make decisions that will last for many years to come once the hotel is built. Launching one line of products in over 20+ countries has proven to be a much bigger challenge than what I had ever thought. But it is totally fascinating and I do love a challenge. Developing treatments for people living with cancer is another big project that we will launch in 2020 that is very exciting. And so much more on the go….



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