Michael Tompkins


A friend of my father’s was an accountant and he had a rather nice life, which appealed to me. But what I swiftly discovered was that I didn’t particularly enjoy accountancy.
A friend of my father’s was an accountant and he had a rather nice life, which appealed to me. But what I swiftly discovered was that I didn’t particularly enjoy accountancy.

Co-chief Executive Officer, PALM Health
Executive Recruiter, Hutchinson Consulting
Immediate Past ISPA Chairman

Some people instinctively know what they want to do with their lives from a precociously young age. Don’t worry if you weren’t one of those people - Immediate Past Chair ISPA Chairman Michael Tomkins wasn’t either.

Life would have been very different if he had followed his childhood dream. “I went to Catholic school and I wanted to be a priest,” he recalls. “My strongest feeling of community came through church. It would have been tough though, because I wasn’t even a Catholic.”

Being one of the few outsiders in a rigid system might sound like an unfortunate position to be in. Rather than rebel, Michael excelled: “I coped by pushing myself as hard as I could academically. It was a way of being accepted, when my family’s modest means and my status as a religious outsider made school harder than it was for other students.”

Michael’s determination was also partly formed by growing up in a tiny hamlet called Hollowville, a place so small its population is not listed by the US census. It is one of nine communities that make up Claverack, New York – total population just over 6,000.

Michael may not have known exactly what he wanted to do, but he knew that education offered him an escape: “My parents knew the value of education,” he says. “I grew up surrounded by love but also by the desire to improve.”

By the time he started college – at the tender age of 15 – Michael’s career had taken its first turn. Rather than taking the cloth, Michael decided to study accountancy. “A friend of my father’s was an accountant and he had a rather nice life, which appealed to me. But what I swiftly discovered was that I didn’t particularly enjoy accountancy.”

By transferring his accountancy credits Michael was able to enroll in a Finance degree… which in turn became a Business Administration degree... which eventually became a Hospital Administration degree. All spurred by his desire to manage people rather than money.

But nothing in life is quite so straightforward. Just weeks before his graduation Michael was told that nobody was going to hire a 19-year old hospital administrator. So he quit.<?p>

When one door closes, so another opens. Returning home, Michael discovered that nursing school scholarships were available. “I got paid to go to nursing college. My background in administration helped me to get promoted quickly.”

However, ten years of nursing left Michael disillusioned with the profession. The spa industry appealed to him because he wanted to work with people who were either healthy or, perhaps more importantly, wanted to get healthy. “Nurses and physicians were, and probably still are, seeing the same patients because they aren’t willing to change their lifestyle. I wanted people to leave me empowered, and that is the spa environment. It changes lives in a way that hospitals don’t.”

That first position was Assistant Director of Health and Healing at Canyon Ranch Spa. He may not have known it at the time, but Michael had finally found his true calling. Needless to say, the job required more schooling. Taking a degree in massage therapy while working gave Michael a unique skillset – academic qualifications in nursing, massage and business.

Michael credits his success in the spa industry to what he calls “engaging the heart”. “What I was taught and what I learned, especially in nursing, is coping mechanisms. Engaging the heart is something bigger, something that teaches people and teams camaraderie in a deeper sense. Once the heart is engaged teams can leverage that momentum to thrust the group forward. That’s the kind of leadership that can make global change.”

Michael has been another outstanding Chairman of ISPA, and we look forward many years of his continued leadership and inspiration for our industry.

“I joined ISPA in 1998 when I started at Canyon Ranch. ISPA has connected me with industry mentors who have made me who I am. It has reaffirmed the goodness of what we do every single day at our places of work. Spa touches people in a unique way. Because of that I will always be an ISPA member.”

The priesthood’s loss is our gain.


A friend of my father’s was an accountant and he had a rather nice life, which appealed to me. But what I swiftly discovered was that I didn’t particularly enjoy accountancy.