WW’s Mindy Grossman on big moves and strategic risks

Business executive Mindy Grossman is a big believer in calculated risks — if they’re strategic. “If you look at my career, it’s been anything but linear. And some of the moves, people have said either I’m crazy or having a midlife crisis. But every single one of them has really been strategic,” Grossman said during a fireside chat with National Retail Federation President and CEO Matt Shay Tuesday at NRF 2020 Vision: Retail’s Big Show.

Calculated risk-taking is one of the best things you can do for your career, if it’s been very strategic.

Mindy Grossman, WW International

“You can consider it risk-taking or you can consider it unorthodox,” she said, “but I’m a big believer that calculated risk-taking is one of the best things you can do for your career, if it’s been very strategic.”

As Shay pointed out in his introduction, Grossman’s career journey has spanned from one iconic brand (Tommy Hilfiger) to another (Ralph Lauren) and another (Nike Inc.). And then another (HSN Inc.). Today, Grossman is the president and CEO of WW International (formerly Weight Watchers), a position she’s held since 2017.  “Folks could look at your career and conclude that it is not really linear, but I don’t think anyone could argue that it’s not been a series of increasing levels of responsibility and success as you move through your career,” Shay said.

Grossman was the eighth CEO in 10 years when she went to HSN in 2006, and it was a company ripe for transformation. Her lightbulb moment came while watching Wolfgang Puck on the Food Network. “The future could be this idea of editorial program commerce. How do you take the Food Network, HGTV, Style Network, bring it to life and now be able to sell the product?” HSN as an entertainment and editorial selling platform was relaunched.

She took the company public in August 2008, which was a difficult time in business. However, the move proved the resiliency of the strategy and the business model, because HSN actually grew in 2008 and 2009.  “The retailers and the brands that … leaned in and said, ‘We’re going to continue to innovate, we’re going to get through this, we’ll make the hard decisions,’ but took a very responsive, aggressive approach forward, are the ones that came out of it stronger,” she said.

In fact, Grossman was poised to become chairman of the company, “but I knew I wanted to do one more thing. I made a promise to myself that if I did, I wanted not only to deliver a financial return on equity as CEO, I wanted to deliver a human return on equity.”

With an overarching goal of marrying technology with meaning, Grossman started looking at companies in the wellness space. “Wellness is one of the most used words right now and the unfortunate part is that the world is becoming anything but healthy.” In 2017, she became CEO of WW, a company that already had a strong sense of community and meaning.

“I love transformation, legacy brands that have had such impact on people, which we had,” she said. “The company had to marry technology plus meaning to help people live better, more connected, engaged and accountable lives built on community, which has always been our differentiating factor.”

Grossman said the biggest investments at WW since she took over have been in personalization, built on that idea of combining technology with meaning. The company recently launched “Oprah’s 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus,” another effort to reach people directly. The nine-city arena tour — which will reach more than 100,000 people, Grossman said — is a full-day event encouraging attendees to assess their overall wellness — body, spirit and mind. It features sit-down interviews with celebrities who want to share their own wellness journeys, including Tina Fey, Lady Gaga and Amy Schumer.

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