Top Employee: Spago Day Spa in Punta Gorda, FL

Spago Day Spa owner Dr. Michael Stampar with spa director and Top Employee Tracy Stewart

Six years ago, becoming the director of a 6,000-square-foot spa/salon was the last thing on cosmetologist Tracy Stewart’s mind—but the universe had other plans.

Stewart, who had just relocated to Florida from Massachusetts with her husband and two small children, had planned to work alongside her sister, a real estate agent, and leave the beauty business behind for good. But then her two-year-old son was unexpectedly diagnosed with diabetes.

“I needed to be with him constantly,” she recalls. Yet despite having insurance coverage from her husband’s employer, rising medical expenses dictated that Stewart find work, too. “The salon and spa business were all I knew, so I asked my sister where she was going for services. That’s how I got hired as a part-time receptionist at Spago Day Spa.”

Stewart wasn’t the only one going through changes. Dr. Michael Stampar, a plastic surgeon with a thriving medical practice, had just purchased Spago and had his hands full. “For years, it was a nurse, a practitioner and me. Now, all of a sudden, I had 17 female staffers to deal with!” says Stampar. A self-confessed “human resources wimp,” he was soon stymied by the many challenges that accompany new ownership. Fortunately, Stewart was ready to pick up the slack.

“I started at about 10 hours a week, but pretty soon it was, 'Oh, can you fill in here; can you do this?'" she recalls. "Then at the six-week mark, the manager quit! The doctor had less experience running the day spa part of the business than I did, so he told me, ‘Well, I guess you’re the manager now.’”

Stampar eventually closed his medical practice to work at Spago full-time, with his prize employee at the operational helm. It was a winning formula: The more that Stampar empowered Stewart, the more she took on.

Today, as the spa director, Stewart handles human resources for the 32-employee facility, including all performance reviews, scheduling, payroll and training for salon assistants. She oversees all the inventory and invoicing for the salon, spa and medical practice. And the advertising and marketing campaigns—as well as promotional events and the monthly newsletter—all fall under her purview.

The doctor even had her certified as a medical assistant so she could help with patients before, during and after surgical procedures. (“She sewed me up once!” he says with a laugh.)

Last July, when the spa built a new location from the ground up, Stewart was involved in every aspect of the project, from negotiating the lease and meeting daily with architects and contractors to designing the floor plan and handpicking tiles, hardwood floors, paint colors and more. It wasn't out of the question to see Stewart polishing the floors herself as part of her tireless efforts to be on top of every single detail. She worked 12- to 15-hour days, keeping busy at both sites, to make the move seamless.

“She always had this grand vision for the new area," Stampar says. "But it’s like we went from the Holiday Inn to the Ritz.” More than 500 guests attended the champagne-studded grand opening event—which, of course, Stewart had planned and prepared.

Beyond her professionalism and stamina, what really makes Stewart shine as a Top Honors employee is her connection to the clients. She knows them by name and checks on them frequently, making sure their pillows are fluffed and that they have fresh, full glasses of cucumber water.

Ask Stewart how she has managed to become such a workplace dynamo, and she’ll give you a list of people who make it possible. “I have a husband willing to step up and do whatever’s needed; a mother who does everything from grocery shopping to picking up kids; and an employer who understands when I have to be at a parent breakfast or attend a field trip," she says. "It really does take a community at home and at work to make you a success.”

Stampar has a simpler theory: “Tracy is willing and able to do what’s necessary.”—Linda Kossoff