If you watched KTLA News in the last 10 years, you may know Liberté Chan. The meteorologist was on the highly-rated KTLA Weekend Morning News and weekday afternoon shows from 2012 – 2021. After nearly a decade at the station, Chan chose to leave the news industry last year. During her on-air goodbye, she said she chose to not renew her contract because her passion for news had faded and there were other, outside opportunities she wanted to explore. She also mentioned that her mother’s recent death after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer contributed to her decision.
Today, she says the death of her mom – who was her best friend and confidant – taught her “that life is short and I want to focus on things I’m passionate about; things that bring me joy,” says Chan.
If you follow Chan on social media, you will quickly learn she lives an active, healthy lifestyle. She practices yoga daily and promotes health and wellness products and practices on her platform in addition to travel, fashion and lifestyle tips.
While that’s what you see on social, that’s just her side hustle. Her primary job is being CEO at Softub Spas®, an L.A.-based company that manufactures unique hot tubs that are energy-efficient, portable, and plug into an isolated 115v outlet.
So how did she go from TV meteorologist to CEO of an international business?
I recently sat down with her and here’s what I learned:
Q: How did a meteorologist on KTLA become the CEO of a company – a company that I’ve learned you also partly own with your two brothers?
A: This is a family business that I never really talked about because it was my dad’s thing. When he came into my life as a teenager and married my mom, I was only interested in making a mark in the news industry and making it on my own. After I graduated college, when I didn’t have a job, I sold a couple of his spas at a trade show in Long Beach, but after that, I really just didn’t want to pursue a career in the family business. I had a degree in journalism and my dream was to become a health reporter because I wanted to share useful information with the public so they could make better health decisions about their lives.
My passion for health and news led me to get a Master’s Degree in Public Health from USC, plus an internship at KTLA. Eventually, I put a reel together and I was hired in Santa Maria; a small market on the Central Coast. I became a general assignment reporter and while I was chasing fires, car crashes and covering county fairs, my dad was running Softub Spas® and two other companies at that time. I remember him asking me if I would be the face and voice of the company, but I declined, saying I was under contract and couldn’t use my likeness to promote a product, even for family.
Fast forward to a few years ago when my dad was diagnosed with ALS. After he died in 2017, my mom took over his company. A couple of years later, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and after battling the disease for almost a year, she passed away. At that point, we had just gone into lockdown and all of the sudden, my brothers and I found ourselves as shareholders of an international hot tub company my dad had started back in 1986. During my grieving process, I realized that my heart was not in news anymore. The early morning hours were affecting my health and I decided to leave news after my contract ended in February 2021.
During that same time, I realized that being a part-owner of a company carries an enormous responsibility. You can’t just sit there, be idle, uninformed and expect the company to thrive. You have to get involved and learn about the company if you want to see it grow and move in the right direction.
We have 117 employees that depend on this company. My involvement started with sales and marketing and due to our CEO passing away earlier this year, I volunteered to take his place. Obviously, I don’t know everything he knew and I’m still learning, but I have surrounded myself with a team of people who want what’s best for the company. Today, I work very closely with our legal, tax and financial advisors, the president and our board.
Q: Your parents are both gone. I’m sure they loved this company. Do you feel a sense of nostalgia working at the family business?
There is a lot of sentimentality. It makes me feel closer to them and I have a strong sense of obligation to make them proud, even if they’re not physically here to see it. Many days, I wish I had taken my dad up on his offer to work at the company when I was 21, because then, I could have worked side-by-side with him. But instead, I followed my dream of being a reporter and later meteorologist and I’ll never regret that decision. I wanted to make it in an industry where I had no connection to anyone and I proved to myself that I could. Plus, many of the skills I learned as a journalist, I can apply to things I do now with our Sales and Marketing team.
The really beautiful thing about this company is the people who work here. I remember my dad always said, “Libs, I love this company, we have such a great group of people who work here, I’m very lucky.” Many of our current employees worked with my dad and they’ve been with the company for decades.
In fact, we have one couple who met at Softub in the 90s, when it was located in Chatsworth (our administrative offices are now in Valencia). That couple got married and when we moved our manufacturing plant to New Bedford, Massachusetts, they moved as well. They trained many of our current employees who work on the line and they still work at our manufacturing plant themselves. Plus, their two oldest daughters work there as well in managerial roles.
You know, it’s one of those great companies where our employees say they feel like they’re a family, and that’s a rare thing in the business world. I think any employee who chooses to stay at a company for 20 – 30 years, well that just speaks for itself. In my mind, that’s a good indication that you have a great company. So, my dad may be gone, but he left a legacy and I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of it and help grow what he started 36 years ago.
Q: I understand you were born and raised in L.A. to a Chinese mother and Caucasian father. While there are other women and minority-owned businesses and CEOs, it’s not that common. Have you experienced any challenges due to your gender or race?
That’s an interesting question. As a child, whenever I was with my mom, people would always think she was the nanny because I didn’t look like her. I also remember her telling me that when she moved to Los Angeles from Hong Kong as a teenager, she experienced a lot of discrimination. But that was a long time ago, and thankfully, things have changed a little. To be honest, I never really experienced a lot of discrimination. I think L.A. is such a melting pot and nowadays, people of mixed race are pretty common.
In the workplace, I’m proud to say we have a lot of diversity. When it comes to our employees, we have a range of ages from people in their 20s to people close to retirement age. Also, 90% of our workforce is Hispanic, and that is very special.
We like to hire people based on their experience and skill set. It doesn’t matter if the person is male, female or from a different part of the world, it just matters if you’re the right person for the job. My father believed diversity was very important, so from Softub’s inception, it has been inclusive and tolerant of all. I’m proud we are continuing what he started.
Q: I’ve never heard of Softub Spas until I met you and your connection to it. Tell me about it.
A: We like to say it’s the best-kept secret when it comes to hot tubs. Of course, we are trying to change that and make it not so secret by exploring different avenues of marketing – for example, right now, we are cultivating our online presence.
But, I think the one thing that always surprises people is that in addition to our product being available in all 50 states, it’s also sold in 30 different countries. In fact, a third of our business is in Europe.
When I was growing up and going on family trips, my dad was always super excited to meet our European dealers and distributors while abroad. Europeans really seem to understand our product because it fits in small spaces, it plugs into a wall, it’s portable and it’s energy-efficient.
Q: Why would someone want to choose a Softub Spa over a more popular one, like one of those hard hot tubs from Jacuzzi?
I wouldn’t want to say anything bad about other companies, I believe Jacuzzi makes a great product, but so do we. There are so many reasons that make our product different and a better option for a lot of people out there. In my mind, the biggest reasons that differentiate our product from others in the marketplace; it’s cost-effective, energy-efficient and very comfortable.
If you are looking to save money, our entry point is lower than traditional, acrylic hot tubs. Our prices range from $4,500-$7,000 whereas a traditional spa can cost as high as $20,000.
Also, our hot tubs don’t have a heater so our customers aren’t strapped with the cost of running one. Our spas were designed with a patented heat recovery system. That basically means the waste heat generated by the pump motor is captured and used to heat the water. That’s why our hot tubs don’t need a heater. It costs about $15 a month to run and stay hot 24/7. With a traditional acrylic spa, your energy bill goes up by $40-$70 per month.
Q: Since there’s no heater, does the water actually get super hot, like other hot tubs?
Yes, of course! Just like other hot tubs, our water gets very hot and reaches 104 degrees, which is the federally mandated maximum.
Q: How many people can fit in your tub? Are there different colors?
Our spas fit 2-6 people depending on the size and there are 13 different colors to choose from. But, there could be more in the future.
Q: So what does the future look like? What’s next?
There are a lot of great things in the pipeline. We are constantly looking for new colors, additional after-market products, a flagship store, and we hope to extend our representation in other countries. We are always looking at expansion and growth. It’s an exciting time at Softub Spas. But to be honest, it just feels really good to carry the torch and continue my father’s legacy. Selling a product that makes people feel good, feels good.
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