Relaxing with his massage business
Seven years ago, Monty White lived the well-paid, high-pressure telecom executive life in Washington, D.C. Now he owns a massage school in Kailua, makes less money and enjoys it more.
White worked for WorldCom before the telecommunications company collapsed.
"I was making $80,000 a year," he said and would laugh off suggestions that he try massage as a job.
Then he lost his job, his savings, his 401(k) and decided to move to Hawai'i and start fresh. And learn massage as a job.
"The best thing that's ever happened to me was getting laid off," White said this week, while working at Windward Community Massage, his growing massage clinic and massage school in the heart of Kailua.
"Destiny kind of jumped in and took over," White said. "I'm not making 80 grand but my stress levels are completely different."
Now in his fourth year running a successful business that nurtures his clients, he admits that the change was devastating at first. He arrived in Hawai'i on Jan. 1, 2004, with a couple of suitcases and a plan to go to massage school full time.
"It wasn't an act of inspiration, it was an act of desperation," he says, with a wry laugh now.
But it worked out. White, 47, grew the business from two or three therapists in Kāne'ohe to the current larger location in Kailua.
"Now I have five working spaces and a classroom. We're open 9 to 9, seven days a week."
But times got tough in October 2008 when gas prices soared and foreclosures skyrocketed.
"We had to adapt with the changing times in order to stay afloat," he said.
The folks who used to get a massage as an occasional splurge stopped coming, forced to spend their fun money on everyday expenses.
"Many massage businesses were folding," he said. "That's when I started taking on students to supplement my income and created the apprentice approach."
The apprentice therapists charge half the $60 price of an experienced therapist, so that helped keep people coming.
Now, some days more than a dozen people get massages at his clinic, other days it slows to six.
And White enjoys coming to work each day knowing that people leave his business feeling nurtured. "They might not be able to throw the cane away but they know they came to a place where they were cared for," he said.
White went to the Hawaii Institute of Anatomy to learn about the human body. Many massage schools schedule one visit to a bio-skills/cadaver lab, where they study the body after death to learn about muscles and structure.
Students who know anatomy are better therapists than those who just read about it in a book, he said.
White's interest in anatomy led to another dimension in his professional life. He now works part-time at the anatomy institute with Bryan Avery, president of the institute.
That lab allows doctors, chiropractors, dentists, massage students and even artists to study or practice on the human body.
The lab is linked to Gifts for Life Hawai'i, a whole-body donation program. "They can give their gift for others to learn," White said, and in return, they save thousands of dollars in end-of-life expenses.
He said the program pays for cremation two to three months after death, and even a burial at sea if they choose. The doctors, dentists and other researchers who study the bodies pay for that privilege, which funds the end-of-life expenses.
White said the program is growing, as many people like the idea of helping others while saving money for their families. White said Hawai'i's cultural preference for cremation — he estimates that 70 percent of the population here cremates — makes it a popular option.
White hasn't stopped trying new things in his massage school. Later this month, he plans to start community classes, aimed at folks who'd like to learn to massage their loved ones but not start a new career.
And he's proud of a career change that once left him sitting with his head in his hands in despair: "Things came around by doing good work, by being sincere and having integrity."