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Interview with: Jean-Guy de Gabriac

As SpaStaff offers a direct line of contact with 1000s of Spa Managers around the world we are keen to assist with the promotion of new and exciting ideas which aim to improve the quality of our industry. The Global Mentorship Pilot Program which was announced at the GSWS in Morocco last September is an inspirational development for those keen to improve their spa management skills. The project is spearheaded by a team of spa and wellness experts from around the world. The first session started in January and will run until the end of March with the second group working from April to June 2015. 17 seasoned spa directors serve as mentors to spa managers in the spring of their careers looking for guidance and inspiration.

This pioneering program is led by Jean-Guy de Gabriac, CEO of Tip Touch international spa training and consultancy, and Deborah Smith, Principal of Smith Club & Spa Specialists, a US-based wellness consultancy. Each mentorship pair will meet twice a month in video conference or by phone over three months to hash out career challenges identified by the mentee.

I met with Jean-Guy at the European Spa Convention in London two days ago and he was keen to answer my questions on behalf of those who may consider applying to the program – which incidentally is free of charge at this time.

You are still a "Pilot Program" – from feedback so far, when do you intend/hope to drop the word Pilot?

Since this is Year 1 of the first-ever international mentorship program for Spa Managers, we want to test-drive our operations before we truly go global in 2016. That said, we have thoroughly prepared this launch in order to have the most efficient structure & team as possible:

* Two co-chairs (Deborah Smith, Principal Smith Club & Spa & I, founder of Tip Touch International) so that there is always one of us supervising when the other one is too deep in running his/her own consulting or training missions

* Committee members supervising a group of regional Mentors, inspired by Anna Bjurstam (owner Raison d’Etre & VP Spas Six Senses, supervising Australia-Asia), with Geeta Morar (CEO SVA Spas, Mentor for India), Shahida Siddique (Owner & CEO Spadunya, supervising the Middle-East), Deborah (supervising the Americas) and me supervising Western Europe.

* a Communication team to amplify the message across the world with Rick Duarte (GM Sundara Spa), Joanne Berry (founder Spa Remedies) and Carla Minsky (senior Press Relations working with Rick)

* an Administrative Assistant, Kate Sornson, following up the Mentor-Mentee relationships on a daily basis

* a very supportive & forward-thinking sponsor for 2015: Biologique Recherche.

As you can see, we have a full-fledged team to make this program walk, run & fly!

If all goes according to plan, in 2016 we will drop the word « Pilot » to run the « Global Mentorship Program », expanding our reach geographically & to other key professions of the Spa industry… (stay tuned for more ;-)

This first session started in January and concludes at the end of March and  the 2nd session will run from April to June – you are taking applicant requests from May for Jan – March 2016 – does this mean the last two quarters of 2015 are full already?

We are running only two sessions in 2015, each lasting 3 months, so we can test the concept, analyse results in July and draft the 2016 development plan that will be presented in November at the Global Wellness Summit in Mexico city.

You are right to point out that applications for next year’s Mentees AND Mentors will open from early May to end of June 2015. We truly hope to also attract Spa professionals from Africa, China, Eastern Europe… and really go “global”.

Has anything interesting or unexpected come out from these first weeks which might change the way the scheme is run or pitched?

We unfortunately lost a Mentor who got herself in-between jobs; two selected Mentees dropped out because of overload in their spa making them unsure that they could truly commit; some regions took a little longer than expected to lauch… but other than that, the program is running smoothly under Kate’s scrutative eye, and that of the regional supervisors.

Does or could advice from a Spa Director from one company conflict with specific brand training and culture of the mentee?  

I do not think that this is possible for two reasons:

* Mentors are not “consultants” fixing or changing things in their Mentees’ spa (we have a clear Mentor’s Handbook explaining the Code of Conduct in detail) ;

* Mentors will use their experience & positive psychology to help Mentees grow their inner confidence so that they better analyse the several options that lie in the challenges they are facing in their operations, priority-sorting, and time-management so that they make more informed decisions, during & after the Mentorship program.

Surely Senior Directors (Area Directors) from large company brands should mentor their own junior managers – leaving your scheme to help small or individual businesses?

Indeed, it is our hope that each major Spa and hospitality group starts its own internal Mentorship program, like Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental… This is why we involved some key group Spa directors to try the ropes of our Mentorship PILOT Program before they, hopefully, adapt it to the structure of their group and roll it out internally. In 2016, we hope to see these initiatives flourish, so we can focus more on stand-alone facilities which are in greater need of help.

I see you have Spa Directors mentoring Spa Directors – is it just a number of years in office thing or is it small spas needing help from those running large spas?

Actually, different countries have different cultures and use different titles covering similar managerial realities: Spa Director, Spa Manager or Spa Supervisor.

So many spa managers (unfortunately) think they have "made it" and think they know it all now they are "at the top" – so to come asking for a mentor might be seen to be an admission of unworthiness of their job title – so could this lead to pitching your scheme more to spa owners as valuable training for their managers rather than pitching directly to their managers?

As the song goes “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”! The Global Mentorship Pilot Program caters for professionals, with high-potential, yet humble, with a yearning to grow as individuals, in order to better serve their team, GM-owner-stakeholders & their clients, of course.

For those thinking they already “know it all”, although our industry is constantly morphing according to the trends, I would like to remind that all champions have a coach and that there is always a higher level in business efficiency, guest experience & leadership that one can reach. Complacency is a pitfall!

We are servant leaders & mentors, striving to inspire many others worldwide, who, in turn, will also guide & inspire talented professionals in their respective countries. We have enough to do for now with those who clearly understand the benefits of the program and want to contribute… we have no time to waste convincing undecided people to join: that is lesson 1.0.1 of time-management & priority-sorting ;-)

Apart from requiring 2 years of spa management experience who do you think should really be applying and would benefit most as mentees? Is it shaking down to a particular type and size of spa or company which needs mentoring the most?

All 105,000 spas in the world have operational challenges (competition, HR, clients’ attraction & retention, guest experience consistency…) or linked to their life-stage: launch, sustaining growth, repositioning or turn-around. All Spa Managers need to constantly adapt, whether operating a day-spa, or in a hotel, club, resort or on a cruise. The most important factor is that our experiential industry is PEOPLE driven, with external guests & internal guests (staff). You can manage things, but you cannot manage people: you have to lead them. In this sense, the Global Mentorship Pilot Program ambitions to help transform Spa Managers into “Spa Leaders”… that is the revolution that we are starting this year and that we hope will grow in years to come …

For further information go to www.facebook.com/GlobalWellnessMentorship or email  jean-guy@tiptouch.com

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