Susan Docherty has been in the saddle as CEO of Tucson’s famed Canyon Ranch wellness resort since April 2015.
But with the recently announced retirement of Canyon Ranch founders Mel and Enid Zuckerman, she now finds herself the face of the company and responsible for carrying their vision forward.
“This isn’t just a job, it’s not a career, it’s making a commitment to honor the legacy of what Mel and Enid created back in December of 1979,” Docherty said.
The Canyon Ranch post is a change for Docherty, 54, who spent 30 years with General Motors in U.S. and international marketing and sales before leaving in 2013 as vice president of Cadillac and Chevrolet in Europe.
She now divides her time between Tucson, Fort Worth, Texas — where Canyon Ranch and its major investors are headquartered — and Phoenix, where she lives with her husband and daughter.
The Star caught up with Docherty on the sun-drenched grounds of Canyon Ranch on Tucson’s northeast side, where she discussed how she got here and her plans for the company.
Q: After a 30-year career at General Motors, how did you end up heading Canyon Ranch?
A: I was recruited by a headhunter. After 30 years in automotive and living all over the world, you learn so much about different cultures, human behavior.
I really grew up at General Motors and I wanted to take all the things I had learned about business, about how people look at things and approach things, and all that learning and apply it to a new industry.
After I left GM I spent 18 months interviewing in a whole bunch of different industries and categories. What attracted me most to Canyon Ranch was the vision and mission of Mel and Enid Zuckerman, and their goal to transform peoples’ lives in a setting like this or at our other property in Lenox, Massachusetts, where people have an opportunity to go on this journey and explore what their intentions are for a better life.
Q: When did you meet the Zuckermans, and how did the hiring process go?
A: This is going to sound strange, but I interviewed for five months. And I think the person who was going to take over the role of CEO of this incredible company, it needed to be the right fit, both to be respectful of what has been built here, but somebody who was going to be committed to help prepare Canyon Ranch for its next 20 years. ...
I took that very seriously, so I spent a lot of time driving from Phoenix and Tucson, to meet with Mel and Enid and Jerry Cohen, as well as the investors who are based in Fort Worth. John Goff of Crescent (Real Estate Holdings) has actually been an investor in Canyon Ranch for 20 years.
Theres a lot of cycles, up and downs of the economy. Our investors are in this for the long haul, and they want us to take the magic of what’s been created here and take that to other locations.
Q: Last month, it was announced that a new operator would take over the Canyon Ranch Wellness Resort in Kaplankaya, Turkey, less than a year after you launched there. What happened?
A: I need to be honest with you, my heart cries for the Turkish people. I spent a lot of time in my first two years in this role traveling to Turkey, and it just breaks your heart to see what’s going on in the country right now.
The location is beautiful, on the edge of the Aegean Sea overlooking the Greek isles, but with everything happening there, the tourism and travel industry in Turkey has received a significant blow.
Q: What about your Canyon Ranch spas aboard cruise ships and your Las Vegas day spa?
A: As of 2016, we’re on 20 luxury cruise ships, the Cunard, Regent, Oceana, as well as Celebrity, and we provide spa, fitness and wellness offerings on these cruise ships. It’s a pretty significant business.
And we also have the world’s largest day spa in Las Vegas, between The Venetian and The Palazzo. … There, we’ve got 100 treatment rooms, a huge, fabulous gym and on a Saturday, we’ll do greater than 900 massages.
When you think about our Las Vegas business and our at-sea spa business, we’ll do 700,000 customer interactions on a one-year basis. ... For many people, their first experience with Canyon Ranch is at sea on a ship. Then they say I’d like a more immersive experience and come here for a vacation, which is great.
We’re exploring right now further expansion for our At Sea business, we just added two ships last year and I think customers can look forward to seeing us continue to expand.
Q: What about other new initiatives?
A: I’d also like to see at some point a Canyon Ranch family resort. And my rationale for that is, when we talk about creating health habits for people, rather than starting at 20 or 30, maybe we should be starting with younger kids and talking about the value of proper nutrition and just imparting the wisdom that we already know … and (help them) think about, ‘What are my intentions, and how do I want to live my life?’
I think in our future, maybe there’s a chance to expand into what I’ll call Canyon Ranch Culinary, for instance. (Canyon Ranch’s new vice president of food and beverage) has been all over the world and brings all these ideas, and it gives us the opportunity to expand what we’re offering here, and to think about what we’d offer in a standalone restaurant. … It’s hard work and it’s really hard to make money, but it’s a good opportunity from a brand expansion standpoint.
Q: Is Canyon Ranch planning to open new wellness resort locations?
A: I can tell you what some of our priorities are. We used to be in Florida, but that was unwed by Lehman Brothers and when they went bankrupt it was auctioned. … What I like about the state of Florida is, we know that Brazilians, Argentinians and Venezuelans LOVE to come to the state of Florida. So we’d like to be there again.
So Florida is a priority for me, and the state of California is another priority for us. We have a director of development on the plane, all the time, looking for what we can do.
It needs to be, first of all, locations that make sense. … When you think of Canyon Ranch in Tucson, and Lenox and even our property in Kaplankaya, it’s not just a resort, but also the opportunity for real estate (Canyon Ranch Living). Because if you look at our properties, here we have 100 luxury homes, and people who live here have the same access to our offerings, same as our regular guests do.
I want a resort where I have enough space to also look at Canyon Ranch Living, because once people see how our resort works, some of them want to live like this on a daily basis.
So its a harder puzzle, because there are a lot of hotels out there that are for sale, but they don’t have a big enough footprint. ...
The connection with nature for our guests and what they experience out in nature is very important, so nine out of 10 places we look at won’t work for various reasons. We’ve got a pretty tall order to make sure something is true to the brand and has enough space to accommodate all these wellness activities.