International Women’s Day | Interview with Tracy Lee
In celebration of this year’s International Women’s Day, we interviewed Founder of TLEE Spas + Wellness, Tracy Lee, to go beyond the portfolio.
What attracted you to spa and wellness?
Spa and wellness was an outgrowth of my undergraduate degree in a rather accidental way. Thinking I would take a year to experience the mountains before attending more school, I found myself in Telluride, Colorado. With my Nutritional Science degree in hand, I ended up working as a nutritionist at a new spa in Telluride. Two weeks into this new job my director told me that my first client would be a major VIP. That person turned out to be Oprah. It was an amazing experience as a young professional in the early 90s, to be dealing with an ultra-high-profile iconic figure. Oprah was navigating her own path to well-being and I witnessed her accomplish significant personal goals, and in doing so I learned more about myself. Helping people live an active and healthy lifestyle was quickly bubbling up as a personal passion of mine, both personally and professionally. It was a natural transition and evolution from nutrition to spa to wellness as those three disciplines began to merge into what is now a global phenomenon.
Describe a typical working day for you…
For the first part of my career, like many, my typical day was shaped by others. My career was my singular focus and involved long hours and quite a bit of travel. I now make it a priority to choreograph my day to suit both my personal and professional aspirations. Spending time with my husband and my children and nourishing every aspect of their lives is my number one priority. Following close behind that is maintaining a strong connection to my professional passions, my connection to my friends, extended family, and my own physical and mental well-being. By design, all of these things are inextricably tied to one another and require vigilance to keep in balance. I trail run, CrossFit, yoga, or rest actively every day. I schedule these activities in between other work and my attention to managing our household. Every day is different and modulated by the constant movement of my family, projects, and collaborators. I endeavor to begin and end each day gently and intentionally with my family.
Can you tell us about 1-2 challenges you faced throughout the course of your career, and how you overcame them?
In 2007, when I became pregnant with my first daughter, I knew a full-time position wasn’t going to be feasible again for a while. I spoke with Mark Harmon, CEO of Auberge Resorts at the time and instead of resigning as planned, we figured out a way to make it work. This was the ‘aha’ moment that changed my outlook on things. Up until that point I viewed my career from a fairly rigid perspective – you fit a job description and you went to work for someone. This opportunity to define my own terms challenged me to step back and think about what I wanted rather than what was expected. Making the transition from employee to entrepreneur was not a natural one for me but was born out of necessity and desire to be a mother, wife, and professional and to follow my passion, which was and is, wellness.
What are you most proud of doing?
I guess I am driven by results and as I reflect on my life and my accomplishments, I am most proud of the family that my husband and I have built together. I’m equally proud of the work that TLee Spas has done and how many of these places and programs have calmed, inspired, and transformed lives. There have been summary points of inspiration, mentors, contributors and all I can do is be thankful, grateful, and appreciative of all of those who have allowed us the latitude to create something that we are proud of.
My work on The Spa at Calistoga Ranch in the Napa Valley (pictured above) is incredibly important to me. On a professional level, it was challenging to work within the strict land-use and entitlement restrictions, which necessitated creative design solutions. On a personal level, it’s where I first met my now-husband, so it set the path for the rest of my life.
Working with Equinox Hotels, (pictured above) and being part of the opening of the very first Equinox Hotel was a thrill. Their core values around health and wellness speak to me on a personal level. We were charged with defining a strategy and service offering for the brand that transcends the traditional boundaries of the spa with a focus on high-performance living.
My relationship with Auberge remains incredibly special to me: The Spa at Esperanza in Los Cabos was not only my first ground-up project, but also my first international one.
Working on the Miami Beach EDITION was also incredibly rewarding. It was the start of a new brand, which allowed us to immerse ourselves in their vision while setting a framework for wellness that continues to evolve and expand with each subsequent project.
What advice would you give to young women aspiring to a similar career path?
My father always told me to not compromise myself or be dependent on anyone other than myself. I am grateful for the certain degree of independence and self-sustaining skills and abilities that I have both developed and preserved as a result of following that advice. Young women today should be proud of the brave women and changemakers that have preceded them and know they are well poised, much more so than in the past, to enjoy a more level playing field than ever before. I would say take advantage of that. Don’t be shy, don’t hold back, don’t be reserved, don’t wait for others to give you permission, move forward with your passions with reckless abandon. All that you desire is achievable If you simply apply yourself, be disciplined, and make it happen.
What three skills do you think are essential to be a great leader?
Listen to others, be open-minded, work hard.
Throughout my career, I’ve worked in a variety of operational roles, so I feel like I’ve walked in the shoes of all staff members: from locker room attendant, scheduling coordinator to spa director. I apply that operational and functional lens through every aspect of the development process.
I feel a tremendous responsibility to our clients to deliver best-in-class facilities and programming with lasting value and I’d like to think we meet that challenge with energy, enthusiasm, and endurance.
I trust Michael Lahm (COO of TLEE Spas) implicitly, as I do our many collaborators. I rely on a lot of really amazing people, who have their own specialties and skillsets, so I don’t second guess them. I try to lead with a proactive and positive mindset, feeding off the collective intelligence and insights that come with effective co-collaboration.