Tuesday, August 06, 2013

If I were the new Weight Watchers CEO

David Kirchhoff has resigned as Weight Watchers CEO.  You can read about it here, here, and here. The new CEO, James Chambers, has some interesting experience, considering his new role as Weight Watchers CEO:
He was the President of the U.S. Snacks and Confectionary business unit and General Manager of the Immediate Consumption Channel of from January 2010 to July 2011. Chambers also served from September 2005 to January 2010 in various roles in the North America business unit of Cadbury plc, most recently as the President and Chief Executive Officer. Chambers began his career at Nabisco, Inc. and also held various executive positions with Remy Cointreau USA, Paxonix Inc., NetGrocer.com, Inc. and Information Resources, Inc.
So the new CEO is a traditionally-educated businesss guy (Princeton, Wharton School of Business) who sold the kind of foods ("immediate consumption channel"=snacks and Remy Cointreau=booze and Cadbury=chocolate) that helped members put on the weight in the first place. I am guessing he will not be as visible as David Kirchhoff was. (As of now, there is, interestingly, nothing about this on the WeightWatchers.com press releases site.) Rather, he will be expected to use his expertise to bring Weight Watchers out of the slump that it has been in -- meeting attendance is down and the brand is having trouble competing with free apps.

I thought I'd offer some free advice, since I am exactly the kind of member that Weight Watchers is going to try to win back -- people who feel some affection for the brand but who have decided to use a free app instead.  If I were the CEO of Weight Watchers, I would make some changes and keep the things that are working.

  1. Simplify the Points Plus formula. A lot of members miss the simplicity of the old Points formula, where it was pretty easy to eyeball a food label and get a sense of how many Points it would have. Members shouldn't need a computer to know what to eat. Put the scientist you just hired on this right away.
  2. Take better care of Lifetime Members. I know a lot of Lifetimers felt disappointed that once they reached goal, there was not a lot of attention paid to them. Add some incentives for 1 year, 5 years, etc. at goal weight. Put together exciting regional Lifetime meetings or conventions.  Spotlight them -- they are what you are selling! I know that Weight Watchers offers to employ successful members, but a chance at a low-paying part-time job doesn't seem like enough incentive to keep maintainers engaged.  
  3. Make the meetings more empowering. The current model leaves a lot of room for improvement.  To be fair, I haven't been to a meeting in about 2 years, but I am guessing that things haven't changed that much since then. I think there has to be a way to break away from the teacher-student model to something a little less infantalizing for members. No more poems. Losing weight is difficult, serious business. To be able to do it successfully, members have to learn to fight for their time and priorities like a tiger. Sitting in a classroom keeping quiet might not be the best way to build those skills.
  4. Get rid of the junk. Any obesity expert (probably even the one you just hired) will tell you that the Fruities, the bars, the shakes, the snacks, etc. are not the ticket to healthy weight loss. While you're at it, require the company selling the Weight Watchers brand foods to improve their nutritional profile or remove your name from their products.
  5. Acknowledge the struggle and provide better support. I enjoyed Weight Watchers when I was having success, but when I was struggling, I never felt like meetings helped that much. The leaders didn't have many tools to offer other than, "Just keep trying." This may be one thing that improved with the 360 plan, but I am guessing this is going to always be an area where there is room for growth.
To be fair, I feel like I need to acknowledge the things that Weight Watchers has been doing right and should continue to do:
  1. Continue the focus on group support. This is the one thing that Weight Watchers can offer that all the free apps can't.  
  2. Continue to embrace Weight Watchers bloggers and social media stars. I had some fear, back when I was writing under the name "Yet Another Weight Watchers Blog," that I would get slapped with a "Cease and Desist" letter. But Weight Watchers has seemed to understand that people like Heather and Roni and Sheryl Yvette bring them business even if they don't toe the corporate line 100%.
  3. Continue to evolve with the science. I like that Weight Watchers does updates when the scientific understanding of weight changes. I'm glad they are not still pushing liver and fish or Fat and Fiber.  
  4. Continue to be inclusive. Weight Watchers has managed to serve so many different kinds of people, from grandmothers to college students. That has probably been a challenge for them, but it also is what makes them the big name in weight loss.
  5. Continue to focus on healthy habits. Weight Watchers has always provided members with a good education about healthy eating habits, and recently, they have been emphasizing exercise more and more. They don't lean too heavily on gimmicks, they keep the emphasis on portion sizes, healthy food, and activity. Even though some of the recipes passed around in meetings are junk, I have always loved the Weight Watchers cookbooks, which use real ingredients and focus on fresh vegetables.
It is definitely going to be difficult to compete with free apps. To do it, Weight Watchers will need to find a way to really generate some excitement about the brand. I hope they manage to do it -- even though I haven't been back in a while, it's nice to know that they are there if I need them.


  1. Interesting to read that the new CEO has jumped ship from a foods manufacturer who are making the products people struggle with in the first place...

    I definitely agree with you re. weight watchers products - at the end of the day it's usually highly processed food and it seems to me to be at odds with their desire to approach weight loss in a healthy way. And I think that there is too much focus on numbers and not enough on learning how to live a sustainable, healthy lifestyle - free of the numbers.

    Can I ask what is the free app that you now use instead and do you find it useful?

    1. I use Lose It! -- I use the premium version but that just adds a few features to a very good free product.

    2. I don't know that it's accurate to say Chambers "jumped ship" from food sales. He may have just seen an opportunity to move up. I just thought that his past was interesting.

  2. Wow - I can't agree with you more! Especially nos. 2 & 5. I was always shocked of the things my leader didn't know that I knew from a simple internet search. When I made Lifetime I felt like they kicked me out the door, I went for a little longer but didn't see much support. The process doesn't end once you reach goal - it is much harder maintaining; and I'm sad to say I was unable to. I'm heading back after vacation but trying a different leader as I need the change to get re-motivated.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07