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INSIDER Q&A: Naomi Whittel, CEO, Twinlab

<p>Taking the helm as CEO of a nearly 50-year-old company, Naomi Whittel is positioned to leverage large-scale science and a solid supply chain to help industry regain consumer trust.</p>

Twinlab Consolidated Holdings has continued its turnaround strategy, naming Naomi Whittel as its new CEO, replacing Tom Tolworthy, the previous CEO and president. Whittel joined the organization last October when Twinlab purchased Organic Holdings, the company she founded as Reservage in 2008. INSIDER chatted with Whittel on reinventing the nearly 50-year-old Twinlab brand, exploring new markets and empowering women in leadership.

INSIDER: Twinlab has a strong legacy in the sports nutrition and weight loss arenas, and has moved a bit toward anti-aging with the Reservage addition. What lies ahead for the Twinlab brand and its product offerings?

Naomi Whittel: We have on our hands a brand that has such legacy, and such consumer awareness. A company that is made in the USA with its own supply chain, and is uniquely designed and formulated to meet the highest regulations. With consumer trust being as low as it is right now, Twinlab is really uniquely positioned to be the trusted scientific source of nutrition for many years to come. So all of the innovation that you’re going to see coming out of us will be focused on that core message around trust.

The thing that makes me most nervous about the industry as I look at the next five years is the shortcuts that so many companies are willing to make. Companies use the word “science," and they’re not truly acknowledging what science is. And they’re not worrying about the repeat sale to the consumer, because the consumer may or may not see the results. I think we’re playing with fire because consumer trust is so low right now. There are a lot of companies that are playing with the pseudo-science, and it’s not helping. It’s hurting us deeply.

Rather than just simply launching a new SKU, let the innovation be around the science. And let the innovation be around the education, which is where you’re going to see us going in the future.

INSIDER: Reservage and Organic Holdings were a smaller, more nimble company, and now you’re heading up a very large, publicly traded company. How do you continue to be innovative as the scale of business changes?

Whittel: That’s the most exciting piece. We’ve always been able to be involved in research with the NIH [National Institutes of Health] and a variety of other universities over the years. So, science has always been something that we, regardless of the size of our organization, have been able to benefit greatly from. With that being said, the opportunity of having a larger platform allows us to do it at a larger scale. Right now, Twinlab is going through what we’ll call a reinvention. You’re going to see a lot of changes over the next period of time. And our goal is to under-promise and over-deliver as we reinvent this company. Then, you’re going to be able to see how we reinvent from an innovation standpoint, and it starts with science.

INSIDER: In addition to your new role, Bill Stevens, who worked with you at Organic Holdings, was recently named CFO at Twinlab.

Whittel: I’m very, very excited about Bill moving forward as CFO. He incorporates this model called the three ‘M’s, which stands for margin, materiality and momentum, and he looks through those three lenses at all times as he is doing his job. When I outlined the reinvention that we’re working on and how we’re getting to innovation, and the platforms that will grow from there, it all comes through this margin, materiality and momentum model.

INSIDER: You also find yourself in a unique position in the industry as a woman heading a major organization. You’ve passionately spoken in the past about women and leadership. Can you share some of your takeaways around leadership and mentorship?

Whittel: This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart. I refer to mentorship from a slightly different perspective called sponsorship, which is an active form of mentorship. When I first started doing business with GNC, Beth Kaplan [former president of GNC] was my sponsor. She really helped me elevate my skills and was actively engaged in my success. So, if she wanted to introduce me to somebody, she wouldn’t just give me their name, she would walk with me over to where they were if we were at an event together, and start to explain to that individual why they needed to get to know me—what was so great about me that would be great for them. She took a very active interest in this mentorship. That made a huge difference, and that’s how I mentor now. I encourage any woman in our industry who has a mentor or who wants one to really make sure they’re getting this active mentoring.

It is crucial that we provide the women in this industry with the platform to elevate. Studies show that 98 percent of women-owned businesses never get to be over the size of $1 million dollars. And that’s because to leverage a business, to scale a business, it takes a very unique set of skills. As women, we’re wired for connection, which is so fundamentally important because business is all about connection. But it’s also absolutely appropriate to push for something that you believe that you are capable of and that you want. Studies show that when there is a critical mass of women within the executive management team—on the executive board—it improves customer satisfaction, and it improves the bottom line. We have the control at the shelf to not only improve the health of our children and our families, but also in a lot of cases, we can make purchasing decisions where we’re improving the health of someone else in another community, such as in a village in a remote area of the world. There are a lot of ways we can globally empower the world.

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