As the new and first woman CEO of Twinlab Corp., a longstanding maker of dietary supplements, Naomi Whittel knows as well as anyone what is required to advance as a woman leader within the natural products industry. Whittel, who was named Twinlab CEO in March 2016, has been focused on helping more women follow in her leadership footsteps ever since she founded her own supplement company Reserveage Nutrition in 2009 (which she sold to Twinlab in 2015).
A longtime sponsor of New Hope Network’s Women in Naturals platform, which hosts the Women in Naturals networking events at Natural Products Expo, Whittel has recently turned her attention to the power of conscious leadership development as a tool for not only advancing women leaders but also instilling more compassion, nurturing, collaboration and other feminine values within the natural products industry business culture.
New Hope Network recently spoke to Whittel about why she remains committed to the advancement of women in the naturals, how this will benefit everyone and the role conscious leadership can play in advancing women, strengthening the industry and inspiring greater confidence in both women and men.
Why are you dedicated to the advancement of women leaders in the natural products industry? Why is this issue so important?
Naomi Whittel: Advancing women’s leadership roles within the natural products industry is a subject I hold near and dear to my heart. I’ve been a “woman in naturals” since I started my first company in my early 20s. It didn’t take long to recognize that being taken seriously as a 23-year-old female CEO would present a daunting problem. Where I saw growth and potential ahead, others saw age and gender. Discouraging as these experiences were, they only emboldened me to work on shifting perceptions and helping pave a road for women in my industry.
One of my proudest career moments was founding The DAWN Network, a national initiative to expand female leadership within our industry through workshops, mentorship and sponsorship programs, and networking opportunities. Our mission is to prepare DAWN women for advanced roles and financial success, and increase diversity within the industry. This work will benefit everyone, as research shows that women’s significant presence in executive management and operations is linked to increased revenue, social responsibility and workplace satisfaction.
You’ve also been developing a focus on conscious leadership, which is why Twinlab is sponsoring the Mindful Leadership conference track at Natural Products Expo East. How do you see conscious leadership connected to the advancement of women leaders?
NW: If conscious leadership represents influencing those around you to a higher level of performance through their own self-awareness, through empathy and encouragement to step out of their cozy safe place, then we women are already a step ahead. We’re in the prime position to incorporate feminine qualities such as compassion, nurturing and collaboration within our organizations. In some business realms, these qualities have been seen as a hindrance, but they lay the foundation for a more conscious leadership within our industry.
Data shows that female managers are more inclined to cultivate potential in subordinates, recognize performance and manage a team that is 33 percent more engaged on average. A report by Harvard Business School and Catalyst, a global, nonprofit researcher of women’s issues, showed that for every woman added to a corporate board, corporate giving catapulted by $2.3 million. But the benefits of women leadership don’t stop at employee engagement and corporate philanthropy. Another study found that Fortune 1000 female CEOs drive three times the returns as S&P 500 companies run by their male counterparts. So as you can see, this movement is not a women’s rights issue—it affects us all.
I also see the advancement of both women and feminine values helping on the consumer front. At present, we’re facing an erosion of consumer trust in nutritional supplements after a period of breaking news and national headlines surrounding a series of investigations. With women being the CEOs of their households, investing 80 cents of every dollar they make into their families’ health and home, imagine how combining an increase in female leadership with the conscious leadership approach will positively affect our ability to engender greater trust with our consumers.
Improved self-confidence is an important outcome of conscious leadership development. What is an example of a time when your confidence enabled you to be a more effective leader?
NW: It’s the biggest challenges in life and business that have the ability to bring out your best or worst. These are the times when you’re most vulnerable and arguably more aware of your thoughts, sensations and emotions, which can work for or against you. In the early days of Reserveage Nutrition, we were on a fast track to becoming a pioneer in the resveratrol and collagen markets. I was brimming with confidence!
Three years later, this confidence started to crumble when our product portfolio jumped from a handful of winners to more than 60 SKUs across multiple categories. To say I had to quickly turn things around is far too tactical and detached of a description for what I had to do. I had to reinvigorate not only the company, but inspire my team to stretch their imagination of what they could do and of what we could do together, something that was not about to happen through secrecy and closed doors. By being transparent and even vulnerable with the team I relied upon, I was able to find the talent and support needed to reestablish focus on our core product set. Through confidence rather than ego, I slashed our portfolio by 80 percent, a move that ultimately led to a 120 percent increase in the company’s EBITDA.
What inspires your confidence?
NW: For years I kept a quote on my desk from the early German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that read: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it! Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” The audacity of this quote resonated with me as I was building Reserveage Nutrition and trying to break into a saturated field dominated by behemoths. Boldness and bravery is the essence of leadership within both life and business. To this day, I draw inspiration from the notion of being bold and thinking differently.
The Mindful Leadership conference track, sponsored by Twinlab, takes place Friday, Sept. 23, at Natural Products Expo East. This conference track is open to all Expo East SuperPass holders.
The Women in Naturals Networking Event, sponsored by Reserveage Nutrition, will be held on the outdoor terrace of the Baltimore Convention Center from 5:30 p.m.-7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 23. This event is open to all Expo East attendees, particularly those looking to build their confidence as conscious business leaders within the natural products industry. This year for the event we have partnered with Sisters Circle, a long-term mentoring program for women in Baltimore. Together, we are working to empower and encourage all women, give our young women a voice, create a network of community and support and promote healthy lifestyles and choices.