Prepare for Takeoff! MassageLuXe preps for an "explosion" of growth
Name: Mark Otter
Title: President, CEO
Years in franchising: 10
Years in current position: 3
Mark Otter spent the early years of his career learning the ropes of franchising on the restaurant side. He spent 7 years as a division president for a national burger brand, and before that 5 years as a franchisee of an upscale steak and seafood brand. Four years ago, when he saw an opportunity to step into the C-suite at MassageLuXe, he jumped right in. Today, he is president and CEO of the spa brand, which offers massages, facials, and waxing.
Massage therapy is big business. A recent study by the American Massage Therapy Association documented it as an $18 billion industry—and growing. That’s one of the reasons Otter is on a quest to see MassageLuXe grow from its current 69 locations to 250 locations in the next 5 years. “The plans around that are to continue to add great people to support the franchise base and to become the premier provider of massages and facials,” he says.
Otter believes that communication and teamwork will always be followed by success and growth. Hard work and building relationships have been two of the cornerstones to his success. Franchisees and their success, he says, are a key factor in his leadership approach. “My role is to assure the success of franchisees and facilitate the growth of the brand.”
Otter doesn’t shy away from bold predictions and says to expect an “explosion” of growth in the next year as he continues bringing in the right team members to support the system’s 5-year plan. “People are going to see who we are in the business community, and people are going to want to get on that train,” he says.
What is your role as CEO? To organize the company and ready it for growth. I have been getting the team in the right place and structuring the team so it is both proactive and reactive with the franchise base. My primary role is to assure the success of current franchisees, and secondly to facilitate the growth of the brand.
How has Covid-19 affected the way you lead your brand? Other than all of the obvious procedural issues that had to be addressed for the safety of all of our clients and staff, the main thing I have done is simply deepen the resolve to be there for our clients, our franchisee partners, and their staffs. Leading in challenging times takes constant learning, constant communication, and the deep-down desire to help all successfully accomplish their goals. And, of course, the ability to change direction on a dime if new information becomes available.
Describe your leadership style. First and foremost, building relationships is what is most important to me. The first thing we need to do is tap into everyone’s emotional piggy bank. It is important to always make deposits. My team members need to know I am there for them and reasonable, but that I have high expectations of them. They must be willing to give their all.
What has inspired your leadership style? Through the years, I have worked for many great leaders. I am a voracious reader of leadership books and I like to understand leaders of the past. I have taken a lot from great leaders I have worked with in the past. I learned to listen to them and to see what was successful and what was not. I believe a great leader is constantly learning how to get the best out of people and how to connect with different personalities.
What is your biggest leadership challenge? Impatience. I want us to make progress and improvements today, as well as tomorrow. I have to recognize that there is a lot of work to be done. There will be gaps, and I want those gaps closed quickly. I need to have that patience because at the end of the day I expect a lot out of the team.
How do you transmit your culture from your office to front-line employees? Our culture is fantastic, and I take a lot of pride in it. We have a collaborative nature; egos are sent out the door. We are very open to ideas and everyone has a voice. The number-one thing that has put us in the successful position we are in today is the team. We have a culture of caring about the franchisee base, caring about one another, and caring about the commitment to do a better job tomorrow than we are doing today. The culture is fantastic.
Where is the best place to prepare for leadership: an MBA school or OTJ? I think OTJ is the best place to prepare for leadership. Most people end up going to work for a few years in another job before they get their MBA. The reason they do that is that it's helpful to go out and get real-world experience in business. If you’re thrown right into the middle of a business, you may have a textbook way of looking at things instead of the real way of looking at leadership. It doesn’t matter how much you know. What matters is your ability to learn from what you do and apply it to your work with others.
Are tough decisions best taken by one person? How do you make tough decisions? The best decisions are made by one person, but those decisions need to be vetted through a number of trusted resources. A leader leans on everybody to get the input they need to make the right decision. Great leaders have the responsibility to make the best decision as long as they have solid information and expertise.
Do you want to be liked or respected? The simple cop-out is to say you need both. It’s simple. I’d rather be respected than liked. If I’m respected for the job I do—how I treat people, the results I get, and how I get those results—then the majority of people will like me as a leader. I’ve seen a lot of leaders who are loved by everyone, but not necessarily for getting the type of results they need.
Advice to CEO wannabes: The biggest advice I would give future CEOs is to become the expert in every aspect and level of your business. Understand your business from the entry point to the CEO job. You need to become expert in all facets of that business. My second piece of advice is that you need to really understand financing and operations, and you need to have a working knowledge of each of the aspects of running a corporation. You don’t need to be an expert at those things, but you need to understand how they work. Then you need to find great people to surround yourself with. The best ticket to success is to rely on fantastic people in leadership roles and listen to them.
How can a CEO help their CMO develop and grow? CEOs must communicate the company’s vision with their CMO to ensure that the CMO can focus on what they want to accomplish. The CEO must understand the customer journey from the start, how the customer looks at things. Helping a CMO develop is a matter of making sure they are also setting up a department with a good structure, and helping them learn how to get the most out of their people.
Describe your management style: I try to surround myself with very good people, and I try to have open lines of communication. I recognize that it takes something different to motivate individuals. What becomes important is getting to know what’s important to each person. I need to understand why they make the decisions they make, and I want to build a relationship where they not only come to me for business decisions, but also personal decisions. I have a very open teaching style, and I believe we learn from our mistakes. I also want my team members to feel comfortable teaching me when I can learn from them.
What does your management team look like? We have a chief financial officer who handles the financial department, a chief growth officer to run the franchise demand generation and consumer marketing, a vice president of operations, a vice president of franchise operations, a vice president of marketing, a franchise director who handles all the franchise sales, and a director of IT.
How does your management team help you lead? By keeping me informed. We all communicate very well, and everyone is encouraged to keep the information coming. We ask questions and share thoughts constantly.
Favorite management gurus: Do you read management books? Yes, I frequently read management books. My favorites are: The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management by Hyrum W. Smith; The Leader in You by Dale Carnegie and Associates; Leadership Is Common Sense by Herman Cain; and Jack: Straight from the Gut by Jack Welch.
What makes you say, “Yes, now that’s why I do what I do!”? I like to see individuals making the decision to become entrepreneurs. I love seeing everyday people decide to step out of the corporate world, make a big change in their careers and get into business by themselves. I like to see people take control of their future, and we have a very diversified group of franchisees. What excites me is people who really create growth and opportunity for themselves through the franchise world.
What time do you like to be at your desk? I am at my desk by 7 a.m. at the latest every morning, and often earlier.
Exercise in the morning? Wine with lunch? I take a 3-mile walk outside every morning. It’s very important to start moving and get that energy and strength from going outside in the mornings. The combination of the exercise and being outdoors is important. Later in the day, I’ll do a workout in my home gym. No wine with lunch. That would just make me sleepy.
Do you socialize with your team after work/outside the office? I don’t socialize outside of work. I think that we have a very social nature in our office. We will certainly text each other funny things, but I like the idea of people having their own social life outside of work with their own families and their friends. I think it’s better if everyone has that without having work overload. Because inevitably you’re going to talk about work, and I don’t want them to have to do that.
Last two books read: I’m currently reading a book called Love Work by Chuck Runyon and Dave Mortensen, co-founders of Anytime Fitness. Before that I read Open: Inside the Ropes at Bethpage Black by John Feinstein, about a U.S. Open that was played there. Golf is an important part of my world.
What technology do you take on the road? My laptop and smartphone. That’s pretty much all I need.
How do you relax/balance life and work? Relaxation is exercise, nature, and golf. Those are my releases. I’ve always had a work-life balance. Family and work and a recreational life all have to go hand in hand. Having great friendships—for example, being part of a golf community is important to me because I can socialize. There are a lot of business leaders in my golf circles. I am not someone who says you have to keep everything separate. I think those things have to complement each other. Probably one of the best relaxations for me is being on the putting green at sundown and enjoying being outside.
Favorite vacation destination: So far, Maui. I do have a vacation scheduled at Lake Tahoe and Yosemite soon, but right now I’d go back to Maui.
Favorite occasions to send employees notes: I use the Hallmark Card app and send electronic cards through email to my staff on a consistent basis. I will send them for many reasons, for example, if I see someone do a small act of kindness or if they took on a big project or handled a challenge, or for something personal. I find that these e-cards are a great way to sometimes add humor or encouragement.
Favorite company product/service: Yes! A deep-tissue massage. A Swedish massage is nice, but a deep-tissue massage is my go-to.
What are your long-term goals for the company? Our goals fall in line with a 5-year plan to grow from our current 69 locations to 250 locations. The plans around that are to continue to add great people to support the franchise base and to become the premier provider of massages and facials.
How do you measure success? Business success is seeing our company grow. It’s seeing our franchisees find success with their own individual businesses and seeing the people who work for us continue to grow in their leadership roles. It’s wonderful to see the franchisees have the success they’re looking for and let their investment turn into what they want it to be. Personally, my success is based around people. I measure success through my relationship with my friends and with my family. Watching my daughter’s career flourish and watching her grow as a person is how I measure my own success. I also view my success through my spirituality and my ability to be there for others.
What has been your greatest success? Being able to conquer challenges that have come up in life. I aim to be a solid family person for my wife and daughter. I believe that teaching people along the way in my career, helping other people succeed, and being in a position where I can enjoy life have been my greatest successes.
Any regrets? I regret that I didn’t know as much as I know now at a younger age. I think that wisdom comes with age, probably, but that same wisdom would be very valuable at a younger age. I want to do what I’m doing for a long, long time. There are so many technological advances that I would have loved to have used earlier in my career. The world is changing so quickly today in business, and I’d like to see it. It’s such an exciting time. It will be different tomorrow. Today you learn so much from younger people in business, like my daughter, who is a financial analyst in a family office investment group. It’s an exciting time in the world of business.
What can we expect from your company in the next 12 to 18 months? You can expect an explosion of growth. We’re bringing on the right people. People are going to see us and hear about us. The success that we’re going to have is going to be noticeable. People are going to see who we are in the business community, and people are going to want to get on that train.
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