Leadership in the Med Spa Industry with Cathy Christensen

October 25, 2023

In this episode, we are joined by Cathy Christensen, President and Chief Operating Officer of the American Med Spa Association (AmSpa). Cathy leads teams specializing in marketing, membership, sales, events, editorial, and legal. As a key figure for AmSpa, Cathy shares her leadership insights into the medical aesthetic industry. Discover the power of a great team, the value of embracing failure, and what can happen when you lead with greed.

Listen to the full episode using the player below, or by visiting one of the links below. Below is the episode’s transcript which has been edited for readability. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, email us at info@byrdadatto.com.


Intro: [00:00:00] Welcome to Legal 123s with ByrdAdatto. Legal issues simplified through real client stories and real-world experiences, creating simplicity in 3, 2, 1.

Brad: Welcome back to another episode of the Legal 123ss with ByrdAd Adatto. I’m your host, Brad Adatto, with my co-host, Michael Byrd.

Michael: Thanks, Brad. As a business and health care law firm, we represent clients in multiple business sectors, especially health care. This season we are finding common ground for our audience, regardless of your background, our theme is leadership, where each episode we will talk about leadership from a different perspective.

Brad: Yeah, it’s awesome, Michael. And then, before we bring in today’s guest, I have a quick question for you. What is your favorite treat?

Michael: Oh, well, anyone that knows me knows that this is an easy answer. It’s ice cream and it is my Achilles heel or the source of all my strength and power. I’m not sure which.

Brad: [00:01:00] So why then, why is it your favorite treat?

Michael: Why is ice cream my favorite treat? Well, because it’s ice cream. What more do you need? And I’ll be super specific, chocolate.

Brad: Okay.

Michael: And I’ll expand from there if I’m feeling a little crazy. But you know better, you know as well as anyone because when we go to any of our lecture circuit and I see an ice cream shop, I mean, we have to pause.

Brad: Audience members, I have many pictures of Michael with this double scoop ice cream chocolate cone in a suit. And it’s pretty funny.

Michael: Can’t not do it. What about you, Brad? What’s your favorite treat?

Brad: Yeah. Believe it or not, the longest time was Three Musketeers, but then they added more chocolate to it, and so I stopped eating them completely. So then I shifted to M and Ms. M and Ms., the milk chocolate version, not the dark chocolate. Why would you put more chocolate in something when it’s so good? So, at my house everyone knows I do love me some M and Ms.

Michael: Okay. All right.

Brad: All right. Michael, when you go to [00:02:00] a restaurant, do you have a favorite dessert that’s different than your favorite treat you just mentioned?

Michael: Define different. If the dessert has ice cream on it, is it different?

Brad: Okay, I’ll let you – if it has ice cream on it, it’s allowed, but besides ice cream, it’s been established that’s your favorite treat.

Michael: So if I’m at a restaurant, I’ll either not order dessert or I’ll order like the brownie with ice cream on top, or the chocolate chip cookie with ice cream on top. Pretty much if it has ice cream, if it has all the mode on it, I’m curious.

Brad: Okay.

Michael: So yes, that’s how much I like ice cream.

Brad: All right. Well, my favorite dessert if in a restaurant is somewhat similar. I do love a hot apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of it. It that’s pretty dang good, or a New York cheesecake if they have like some strawberries or other berries they throw on top of that, that’s some good stuff.

Michael: I’m going to be revealing because we already have established that I have the palette of a second grader.

Brad: This is true.

Michael: [00:03:00] We also obviously already know that I have the maturity of a 13 year old.

Brad: Yes.

Michael: But a weird dessert thing is, I do not like desserts that have kind of a fruit base to them. So I’m not a pie eater or a cheesecake with strawberries eater. I know. Well, I’m not sure where you’re going with all this sweet tooth talk. What is on your mind, Brad?

Brad: Well, thank you, Michael. I thought you never would ask. Well, most people have a sweet tooth of course, except our partner Jay Ro, who does not eat sweets at all.

Michael: Yes. I mean, it’s just one of a long list of ways Jay continues to establish why he’s better than us, and why he’s in much better shape than you.

Brad: This is very true, but not the point of today story. I’m sure you’ve probably heard of this yellow cake thing. It’s called kind of a cream puff that you can buy at most gas stations and it’s like a little plastic bag.

Michael: Are you describing a Twinkie, Brad?

Brad: That is correct. Riley, add another gold star [00:04:00] to Michael’s chart on the wall.

Michael: Okay. Well, and you, again, going to my weird palette, you would think I wouldn’t like a twinkie because the inside of it looks like mayonnaise, which we’ve established is Satan’s creation. And that’s actually, I like Twinkies. I have no idea why, I can’t even explain it. But why are you asking me about desserts and then now Twinkies?

Brad: Well, the maker of Twinkie, the hostess brand, they’re selling to the maker of the jelly you might use to sweeten your PB and J. This company is JM Smucker Company.

Michael: Okay. Well, as long as they keep separate assembly lines, I’m okay with this. I am, again, because of me, I’m not fan of jelly because it’s too close to a condiment. I don’t mind the feeling inside of a twinkie, but if I found a twinkie that had jelly inside, I would be out.

Brad: [00:05:00] Okay.

Michael: It goes back to the fruit.

Brad: Yes. I was about say it reminds me of the fruit thing. It does seem would be wrong for you. All right, fine. Well, Smucker will pay 5.6 billion and then take another 900 million in debt to Snag the snacks company of Hostess and their brand includes, obviously Twinkie, but the Zinger, the Ho-Ho and Ding-Dongs. This is just like a list of a string of a whole bunch of acquisitions that’s happening out there. You know, consumers are really trying to -they’re impulse buyers, and their appetites are, are going very sweet. I mean, someone say it’s snowballing for those investing in sweet treats.

Michael: There it is, Brad/ I was actually bracing with the names of those desserts for your 13 year old boy to come out and was waiting for you to say something inappropriate and you just swerved and went full on. Dad, joke on us. Well done. Well done. Well, again, [00:06:00] what does this have to do with today’s guest?

Brad: Well, besides our guest always being super sweet to me, sometimes to you. I have no idea. That’s for you. We can figure that out.

Michael: She’s always sweet to me, that was a total give up trying to connect dessert talk to our guest talk. You can do better than that, Brad.

Brad: Okay. I’ll try next time.

Michael: We’re going to bring our guest on and we’ll just know that next time you need to form a stronger connection than that.

Brad: Alright.

Michael: So today we are honored to have president and chief operating Officer of the American Med Spa Association. Cathy Christensen is joining us, and Cathy is a longtime friend of ours. As many of you know, AmSpa is a sister company of ours. And so we go way back and we’re going to have a blast today. Let’s give a little bit of Cathy’s highlights. She graduated from North Central [00:07:00] College in Naperville, Illinois with an English language and literature degree. That is fancy.

Brad: Yes.

Michael: Started in the publication world with jobs as an associate editor at All Lured Business Media, and then moved to become an editor and director with Skin Inc Magazine. She eventually moved over to AmSpa as the director of operations and as we said now is the president and COO. She is also the co-host of the Medical Spa Insider podcast that we’ve been on multiple times.

Brad: Yes.

Michael: With some guy named Alex Thiersch. You ever heard of him before?

Brad: Sounds made up.

Michael: Okay. And Cathy lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two sons. Cathy, welcome.

Cathy: Hi, Brad and Michael. So good to be here. Thank you for having me.

Brad: Absolutely. Well, Cathy, we’re going to get right down the business here and ask you a very important question to start off. Do you like any Hostess treats?

Cathy: [00:08:00] You know, I do. Inexplicably do enjoy a good Twinkie or the cupcakes with like the little circle curly cue.

Brad: Oh, yes.

Cathy: You’ve got to eat them a certain way for them to be perfect.

Michael: I think it brings me back to like my middle school, high school years. But it is inexplicable if you really step back to think about it because they’re not that appetizing.

Brad: And yet, so divine ammonia.

Michael: I know. Okay, good.

Cathy: You’re right. It’s not like, and you know it’s not good for you. It’s really not that tasty.

Brad: This is not that kind of podcast. Don’t talk about wellness here.

Michael: Brad tried to bring that into his diet.

Brad: Yeah.

Michael: Okay.

Cathy: What food group is a Twinkie brand?

Brad: The delicious food group.

Michael: He just called it Protein, I don’t know.

Brad: It’s fruit.

Michael: Oh yeah. There you go. Serious question now. And obviously we know [00:09:00] a lot personally about AmSpa. I would love for you to introduce the American Med Spa Association to our audience and tell us about AmSpa and tell us about kind of you and your role there.

Cathy: Yeah, no, I’m very happy to. So, the American Med Spa Association has been around for over 10 years now. And it started out – it actually started out Alex Thiersch, who you mentioned, some people may know, have heard of him. I know he’s pretty, pretty quiet. But he started the organization as actually the Illinois Med Spa Association, and it very quickly, grew into a national organization because of the need for kind of clarity with state-based laws and compliance. back when we started, as it is today, it’s pretty gray. And there were a lot of folks operating outside of their scope of practice, and they had no idea that [00:10:00] they were and were getting in trouble. So, that’s kind of where we started. We’re a member organization where I believe we’re at about 4,000 members at this point. And once we got kind of going with compliance and legal, and that’s kind of where our, our partnership with ByrdAdatto came in, with your amazing resources we’ve been able to supply more information from a legal standpoint to our members, accurate, timely information. And then we also realized that another lack in our industry was business knowledge. And it’s not a criticism at all, but usually when a medical professional is choosing their career, they’re not also thinking about necessarily running a retail business or a non-insurance based business. So we started kind of educating on that, and those are kind of two points of strength in the industry. We try to help people be profitable [00:11:00] and safe in this industry as much as possible. And we take that role and our team takes that role really seriously. So we offer many educational live events, virtual events. We’re always putting out, as you mentioned, Medical Spa Insider podcasts. We have AmSpa now, which is our blog, webinars, all sorts of things. So we service as a resource for medical aesthetic professionals in the space. And we’re not specific to roles. So we have doctors, nurses, NPs, PAs, entrepreneurs. In our opinion, everybody needs to know how to be safe and compliant and profitable, so there’s no reason to limit who can join us.

Michael: It’s amazing. I mean, ByrdAdatto and AmSpa have kind of grown up together. Yes. And it’s been amazing watching what AmSpa has done under your leadership. And one thing in particular that’s interesting is [00:12:00] when, as of the date of the release of this episode, we’ll just be a few short weeks away from a big event. That’s something that you’ve been championing for a while. Tell us about that.

Cathy: Yes, no, I’m super excited. We are launching the Women in Aesthetics Leadership Conference. It’s taking place at the beautiful One Hotel, November 1st through the 3rd in Miami. And it actually just kind of came out of n- I am a very fortunate person and the fact that I can call some really amazing women in this industry and have them take my call and help me and advise me about a number of different things. And it was in the middle of kind of pitching an idea that I had and trying to get some feedback from amazing people like Maria Pya and Lynn [12:49] and Shelby Miller and those folks that I can just pick up the phone. And I had a moment where I was like, man, I bet everybody wishes they could have this network. Like, how lucky am I? [00:13:00] I started thinking, you know, let’s figure out a way to make that happen a little bit. Let’s figure out a way that we can take these women who are really, you know, a lot of women have been in this industry for a while, and they’re just like the men in the industry too. You’re doing other things in your life and you’re supporting probably if it’s not your children, it’s your parents or your family or whatever other responsibility that you have, and it takes a, a toll. And so, the thought was to build something that would nurture both the soul and the businesses of the women in the industry and really start paying attention to the fact that we’re unique and the fact that we’re majority women owned and we’re also majority women used, if that makes sense. So, it’s something to stop and celebrate. I don’t think a lot of the women entrepreneurs in this industry do much of that. I think they just get it done, go to bed, get up and do it again. So, we want to take a minute to kind of celebrate that [00:14:00] and get prepared for 2024.

Michael: Will you explain to Brad why he’s not allowed to attend because he keeps asking.

Cathy: Brad, you can absolutely attend. You’re allowed.

Michael: Oh, man.

Cathy: Yeah, you’re allowed as long as you’re an ally and not a heckler.

Michael: Oh, Brad can’t attend once again.

Cathy: No, I know, Brad can’t attend.

Brad: Well, I thought you were going with the fact that in a few weeks I’ll be in Miami giving a speech at the bootcamp. I thought that’s what you were pushing. I was thinking, like, I agree. That would be a really, I mean, the Women’s Summit where we have all these powerful leaders showing up and talking, it’s probably might be as important as me speaking at the Miami Bootcamp. But we’ll move off that one, and that brings us perfectly into where we’re trying to head, which is leadership. You know, as Michael started this episode, we talked about that this season’s theme is really focusing on leadership. And Cathy, you know, as a leader in the industry, we love to hear some thoughts from you. And let’s really kind of take a step back. We know where you are now, but what was your [00:15:00] first leadership position?

Cathy: Gosh, that’s hard to say. I mean, we can go really far back. I was a bossy kid, right. I was a bossy kid and I was the only female all my cousins and my brother. I was the only girl. I was spoiled and bossy, so I just kind of always leaned into it. I was always the kid who was in charge of the classroom if the teacher had to go somewhere, not because I would tattle, but because I don’t know, I guess they figured I would just keep things moving and make things okay, I guess. I avoided leadership in high school because I felt myself kind of leaning towards it and it freaked me out. I think we can all agree that high school is the worst time ever.

Brad: Yeah, I don’t know. I think I peaked in [00:16:00] high school. It’s all been downhill since then.

Cathy: That’s not true. I’m sure that’s not true. But yeah, I was going through all your like weird awkwardness there. And then when I got to college, I was actually also just trying to get through college, but I had a theater minor and there I – you were required to, I was on scholarship and you were required to either audition for a show or direct something or audition to be a director, basically.

Brad: No hiding there.

Cathy: No, there was no hiding there. I just needed the money, honestly. But I’m glad I did it. I assistant directed “Into the Woods”, which to this day, I can’t hear any of those songs without like, going through like distress. Then I had a chance to direct a couple folks and I really enjoyed it. And I felt like I was pretty good at it. The show turned out well. And you know, naturally I just kind [00:17:00] of – it’s where I go. I like things to be the way I like them, honestly. And often if you aren’t in a leadership position, you don’t have a say or if you don’t put yourself out there, you don’t have a say in the outcome of what’s going to happen. So, I suppose that’s always been kind of the reason why I have naturally kind of stepped into leadership roles, just because I want things to be the way I want them.

Brad: I mean, it’s nothing wrong with wanting it to be right.

Cathy: Yes. I mean, I just feel like you don’t have room to complain about something if you don’t step up and get your hands dirty and try to figure things out.

Brad: I hundred percent agree with that one for sure.

Michael: Just listening to your story, I mean, I hear a lot of, it’s probably in your DNA just natural born qualities of leadership, but I’m curious if you had someone that you learned from to be [00:18:00] a leader. Maybe it was once you kind of started embracing leadership and did you have a mentor or somebody that heavily influenced your developing leadership skills?

Cathy: Yeah. I would say my extended family on my mom’s side is very kind of what’s the word? Like, very driven by accomplishment I would say – in a healthy way, not in a terrible way, but it’s just like how we are. My mom has been an amazing mentor for me. She’s someone who got her chemistry degree and wanted to be a doctor, and then had us, me and my brother, and decided she wanted to be a mom, you know, focus on being a mom, and then got back into the workforce at a really kind of difficult time in the eighties and climbed to the very top of her career there. My grandpa is probably where she got it from. He was in the military. He was in World War II [00:19:00], he was also in Korea. And he was just – I don’t even know how to describe my grandpa. Like, he was a troublemaker and he loved a good story. Like, I often think of how he would react to my kids and the things they get into, how he would probably just laugh about it. But I mean, I distinctly remember him, you know, he had a very military kind of persona in the fact that he believed in leadership and often would say, you know, lead, follow or get out of the way. So, I would say that’s probably where it all started. To be a leader and to succeed was something that was applauded in my family.

Brad: And we all know which one you chose.

Cathy: Yes. Yes.

Brad: Well, sounds like you had some great mentors there, but I think many of us have experienced situations where [00:20:00] we had really poor, or in some cases the worst leadership experience ever. Sometimes it’s being partner with Michael, other times there’s other opportunities – did I say that out loud? Riley, just cut that.

Michael: She’s too busy getting me a Kleenex, Brad.

Brad: What about you, Cathy? Did you have some experience of that sort?

Cathy: Yeah. It’s funny that one of the – when you asked like, who were your mentors? I think I was also mentored by, I don’t want to say bad leaders, but I started my career from the very, very bottom rung. I was an editorial assistant and basically was a hybrid assistant and an editor and was pretty much meant to do a little bit of everything. And I climbed the ladder slowly much slower than probably people do these days, or at least that I’ve witnessed. But yeah. Very slowly in spite of what [00:21:00] I was doing. And I think one of the benefits to that is you absolutely learn a lot and you can, if you’re open to kind of learning from your experience, you can see what not to do oftentimes. And for some reason, that can be a stronger helper for me than what to do. I probably learn my lessons better when I fail than when I don’t, if that makes sense. So when I’ve gone through poor leadership, like for example, I was in a certain role, associate editor, which was kind of middle of the road where you weren’t really going anywhere, and the bulk of the work was on me by far. And I was kind of plowing through and hoping and occasionally getting a raise, sometimes not, whatever. And our editor and chief was let go, and it [00:22:00] was, you know, I had been doing all the work and I had tried really hard and I really believed in the industry and felt like I knew what I was doing, and was immediately, even though I begged for an interview for that position, and I got it, but they just felt like I wasn’t good enough for the role, brought in somebody else from the industry that we were serving, and she was gone in three months and told them they should be promoting me. So, it was someone from the outside telling them instead of, you know, seeing what they had on the inside. And I feel like you don’t get much poorer than that when you’ve blinded yourself to your team and their skills so much that you have to have an outside person say, this is the right move. I think there’s a lot to be said for just being aware of your team and leadership.

Michael: That’s really interesting. I know from knowing you that you are, one of your superpowers is [00:23:00] how you celebrate your team and their victories. And that kind of connects to my next question is, how would you characterize your leadership style?

Cathy: That’s funny because I feel like I’ve spent more time this year focusing on that than I have ever. And I can absolutely make a decision and will make a decision, but I prefer a collaborative kind of leadership style. I think that can only be done if you’ve been involved in the hiring of a team, you have a team that you know, you know their strengths, and you’re not afraid to go against the advice if you get to a point where it’s like, ah, everyone is saying this, but my gut and my brain is telling me this. If you’re not afraid to still follow your path, I do believe collaborative is the way to go. If you’re surrounded by the people that you want to be surrounded by and you trust. I’m not [00:24:00] much of a cowboy. I don’t love going in and saying what I think and then leaving and letting everybody fix it; that’s just not what I do.

Brad: Yeah. And that’s a great point. I mean, I’ll say this; Michael, close your ears, but I’ve said this before, which is, you know, running a business as tough as it is, but having a, a good partner or leadership team makes a huge difference in that and that ability to collaborate and not feel like, hey, let’s bounce this off a few times before we step forward versus stepping forward and realizing you didn’t vet it hard enough and then you’re exposed. So, it is great to have that kind of team surrounding you.

Cathy: That’s right. And I think it’s uncomfortable. I think a lot of leadership is uncomfortable. Because oftentimes you’ll find that what you thought or what your instinct was may not be what the majority of people think. But I think if you’re serving a variety of different people, it’s important to get a variety of different kind of [00:25:00] outlooks and opinions on what initiatives you want to take. And that may prove that you’re completely out of touch with whatever it is, but you have to be okay with being wrong.

Brad: No doubt. Well, Cathy, you know, as a leader in the aesthetic medical industry here, what are some of the areas of concern that you think others who are leaders should be mindful of and, and or they often miss because of whatever their position they’re in?

Cathy: Yeah, I mean, one of the things that I’m noticing more and more is, and this has always been there, but I think it’s getting a little bit worse, is like greed a little bit and being driven by money in this industry. I think it’s coming in, it’s obviously coming in from new folks, but there’s a lot of interest in it from internally too. And I’m all for money. Like, make your money, absolutely. But that shouldn’t be the driver, especially for medical professionals. And that makes me nervous just because I feel like it often results in bad [00:26:00] outcomes on multiple levels. If you’re too worried about saving money or making sure that enough money goes into your own pocket, you’re going to be kind of cutting corners on things like legal and compliance, things like insurance, things like taking care of your team the way you need to pay them and things like that. And none of those things will result in good outcomes, which ultimately, you know, all bad outcomes. If you have an unhappy person doing injectables on a client or a patient and because they’ve had a bad day or because they’re upset, it’s not optimal what comes out of it. You can absolutely hurt the industry. I feel like that’s kind of a snowball thing. Back to your Hostess, snowball.

Brad: Hey, I like it.

Cathy: Yeah. I mean, it was a while, but I came back to it. But I do think that it’s a snowball, like if you’re cutting money or if you’re trying to save money in an unhealthy [00:27:00] way because of just greed as your motivator, that can result in poor outcomes. And we’re an industry right now that is enjoying the safety and compliance that generally that we have. And we all are worried about those bad actors and those slow news days. So, I have to say I have been concerned because it seems like that greed is ramping up even more. I hope it just stays in the banks and it doesn’t show up in outcomes, but I don’t see how that can happen.

Michael: Good point. That’s really good. And I don’t know how that… we can’t have a better wrap up than bringing the snowball back in at the end.

Brad: Yeah, we should just cut right here.

Michael: I know. Well, believe it or not, Cathy, our time together just flew by. We’re so grateful that you joined us. What we’ll do next is we’ll go into commercial and say goodbye. And then on the other side [00:28:00] Brad and I can give a quick little legal wrap up.

Brad: Absolutely. Thanks.

Michael: Thanks for joining us.

Cathy: Thanks for having me.

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Brad: Welcome back to Legal 123s with ByrdAdatto. I’m your host, Brad Adatto, with my co-host, Michael Byrd. Now Michael, this season our theme is Leadership. And boy, we had an awesome leader just join us. Not only is Cathy just crushing it over that AmSpa, but I hear she is born on one of the greatest days in the history of the world. And I’m not just saying that [00:29:00] because we share the same birthday, just happens to be the greatest day ever. But what I loved about Cathy and know when she started talking about leadership, there’s a lot of different takeaways I thought of. But from a legal perspective, her perspective is like, look, just because everyone else is doing it and it seems to be compliant and that it seems to be that making a lot of money doesn’t mean as a good leader, you should be doing it. As a good leader, you should pause and question things and making sure, well, if everyone’s doing it, does that still means it’s compliant? Am I going to expose myself or my employees? Where are the ways as a great leader, can I stop and pause? And I think that was a good insight from her, but I don’t know what other takeaways you had.

Michael: Yeah, I mean, your point I love, her point that you highlighted is if you see it say it type mentality. And I’ll expand on that, just the observation about the industry and the money that’s coming into the industry, and we’ve talked about this multiple times before, Brad, is there’s going to be bad actors that come in. [00:30:00] So you may not only have the influence that people may come under money, but you may have people with bad intentions coming into the space. And so, I think that self-awareness that you just raised becomes all the more important. Or you could find yourself in a leadership position leading an organization that has drifted out of compliance or skidded out of compliance

Brad: Yeah, no doubt.

Michael: And you have, you know, some more serious issues. It would not be a double scoop of chocolate ice cream.

Brad: Oh no, not at all. That’s a good point there, Michael. Well, audience members next Wednesday show we’ll have another badass leader come in and join us when Terry Ross from Apex will come in and talk about her version of leadership. Thanks again for joining us today, and remember, if you like this episode, please subscribe, make sure to give us a five star rating and share with your friends.

Michael: You can also sign up for the ByrdAdatto newsletter by going to [00:31:00] our website at byrdadatto.com.

Outro: ByrdAdatto is providing this podcast as a public service. This podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast does not constitute legal advice, nor does it establish an attorney-client relationship. Reference to any specific product or entity does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by ByrdAdatto. The views expressed by guests are their own, and their appearance on the program does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. Please consult with an attorney on your legal issues.

ByrdAdatto founding partner Michael Byrd

Michael S. Byrd

ByrdAdatto Founding Partner Bradford E. Adatto

Bradford E. Adatto