At NBJ Summit in June, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes gave advice to the entire supplement industry: Invite your AG to visit your business. Possibly a surprising directive a year-and-a-half after "supplement industry" and "AG" co-habitated only the most confrontational of headlines. But that's the point: these relationships must be forged.
As for Utah, only a few companies have discussed the opportunity with Reyes office, and last week, Twinlab CEO Naomi Whittel became the first, since the summit, to host him. Reyes landmark visit to Twinlab's Utah manufacturing facility may set a new precedent between regulators and industry.
Whittel, who has held the CEO role for five months, called the visit her “absolute favorite day in my time so far.” The reason, she said, stems from one industry keyword: trust. “I went on the attorney general’s website and I saw the areas of focus being around restoring public trust,” Whittel said. “Well, restoring public trust was the theme at NBJ Summit; it’s the theme of our industry right now.”
The rash of recent negative press is due to “a lack of transparency in our industry,” Whittel said. “So, when we had the opportunity to invite the attorney general into our facility I jumped all over that.” After all, Whittel commented, “the regulators and the legislators are part of our ecosystem.”
As for the suggestion to invite AGs to facilities, Reyes said, “that advice stands. All the businesses should bring their regulators out.” And the regulators should go out, he added: “We deal with a lot of dark stuff in the attorney general’s office. It’s so refreshing to take a break from all of that and be able to go out and see good hardworking, productive companies that are providing jobs and contributing to the local economy, and then to see all of those employees in an environment where they’re flourishing and they’re feeling empowered.”
“The trust that gets built up is so important,” Reyes concluded. “And how can you gain trust if you don’t interact?”
NBJ talked to Reyes and Whittel on Thursday about what each learned. Here are some takeaways:
How is such a visit useful for industry?
Naomi Whittel: It’s imperative that if you’re a good player and you want to continue to build public trust—restore that public trust that’s so low—you must connect with your attorney general, because [all of the AGs] are speaking with each other.
What touched me so much was that the line workers felt inspired and empowered. It was such a boost in morale to be able to have our attorney general come and visit our facility. Everybody was so proud; there was nothing to hide.
How is it useful to an AG?
Sean Reyes: On the regulatory side, it’s very helpful to understand what businesses are doing—particularly good businesses. I learn good business practices, some that I can share with other businesses I encounter. I learn a lot about a particular business and get a good sense and feel for what they’re like and the quality of their product or service.
Part of my job is going around listening to citizens, to businesses, to nonprofits, even other government agencies, and understanding who they are, what they do, what I can do to help them and the synergies in what we do. Private/public partnerships, to me, are a critical component to having success in a government agency.
Outside of meeting the line workers, we got to sit down with the C-suite. That helps educate me about what the concerns are in the industry.
What advice do you have for the industry?
SR: Make the invite. Lawyers are naturally intellectually curious people. They like to go and figure things out. Take them to a manufacturing plant, an operations plant, a call center. Even those who may not get the importance of this particular industry, I think they are by and large people of good will and good intent and they are public servants. The invitation, a sincere one, I think will be well received by any attorney general.
NW: I was very lucky to be at NBJ Summit and have that opportunity to meet [Reyes] but if you don’t have that opportunity I think you just figure out how you get in front of your AG and invite them to your facility. I think it will elevate the good players in our industry and it will help the bad players to move out of this industry where they really don’t belong.
SR: To the extent you can self-regulate and flush out the bad actors, it certainly helps us because we have scarce resources. We’d rather not be chasing them down if we don’t have to, and it certainly helps you all because you’re not left with the taint of some of those bad actors.
What about advice for fellow AGs?
SR: The reality is there are a lot of complaints and skepticism about the industry. But my guess is that a disproportionate amount of complaints come from a few bad actors, and those types bad actors exist in every industry.
Before you judge and paint an industry like the supplement, nutrition, health and homeopathy industry with an extremely broad brush in a negative light, it would behoove you to go in and meet and see these people, and get a real feeling for what their businesses are like.
What surprised you?
SR: There are big challenges in the state, whether suicide prevention or opioid addiction. I don’t know how Twinlab can help, but after sitting down with them I have some better ideas about maybe places we can collaborate and work on issues together.
NW: The opportunity for collaboration is really important to us. As soon as the visit was over I started getting comments and emails from the team: ‘We want to support this initiative around reducing the suicide rate around Utah. These are our teens, our children.’ I can’t tell you how much of an outpour has come from our organization on how we can support those initiatives, how we can collaborate.
SR: Part of it is a fact-finding mission for me to see: what resources do they have? I don’t have those resources as a government agency, so let me see if I can harness some of them if they’re gracious enough to work with us on a project.
NW: I sincerely believe that the way we grow in this industry—it’s such a fantastic industry, we’ve got so much to give and it’s growing so rapidly—is by being a purpose-driven organization. Restoring public trust, transparency, the open door policy, healthcare—these are the areas where we can really align with our attorney general. It was an absolutely thrilling day for our entire organization.