38: "The Self-Aware CEO" - Mindy Grossman

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"The Self-Aware CEO"

Mindy Grossman is one of only 51 women CEOS of Fortune 1000 companies and she turned HSN into the second best performing Fortune 1000 company of this century. Since taking over as the CEO of Weight Watchers last summer, the company’s share price and membership have risen dramatically.  I talked to Mindy about the life changing decisions she made at 19, about unlocking creativity from the C-Suite and about the importance of Winnie the Pooh.


Three Takeaways

  • Awareness of which influences are truly important
  • Turning that awareness into a leadership philosophy
  • The ability to remain open-minded

"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 38: "The Self-Aware CEO" Mindy Grossman

“Today I have the philosophy of how can I get better every single day? How can I have a better impact on the business, how can I have a better impact on people, how can I have a better impact on people's lives in particular, with what I'm doing today? So I think that combination of self-awareness and leadership today, is critically important.”

The leader faces big questions. 

Where are we going? What are we doing? being among the most important. 

Is this approved? How do we fix this? being among the most frequent.

Answering those questions and filling others with confidence and clarity is at least one full time job.

In between all that, most leaders spend the rest of their time responding to self doubts. Am I right? Am I good enough? Am I  worthy? being among the loudest.

It’s human to look inwards. To feel guilt and doubt. Everyone does. Almost everyone.

But a little goes a long way. And quickly, this kind of internal fixation is as destructive as poison.

The best leaders, fearless leaders, look at themselves through a mirror. They don’t look inside but out.

What difference am I making? How can I help more? What do they need from me? being among the most generous. And the most valuable. To your business. And to you.

Mindy Grossman is a 40 year long success story. She has built innovative, creative businesses at every step of her career. From Ralph Lauren to Nike to the Home Shopping Network to Weight Watchers.

She is one of only 51 women CEOS of Fortune 1000 companies - a statistic which reflects powerfully on her impact and horrifically on the boards of Fortune 1000 companies.

She turned the Home Shopping Network into the second best performing Fortune 1000 company of this century.

And sine taking over as the CEO of Weight Watchers in the summer of 2017, the company’s share price and membership have risen dramatically. 

I talked to Mindy about the life changing decisions she made at 19, about unlocking creativity from the C-Suite and about the importance of Winnie the Pooh. 

Charles:               

Mindy, welcome to Fearless. Thank you so much for being here.

Mindy Grossman:           

I'm thrilled to be here.

Charles:               

I like to start every episode with the same question, so let me ask this of you. When did creativity first show up in your life, what's your first memory of something being creative?

Mindy Grossman:           

You know I was always, although albeit it a bit serious, but a creative child. Whether it was art, or whether it was dollhouse fascination, or really doing something that took my mind to a different place. I ended up really spending a lot of my time immersed in books, for example. I love reading, I love being transported to different places. So it's all part of parcel of creativity. But I think the real moment for me, and just to give you some background, I was adopted when I was three days old. My parents had tried for 12 years to have kids and couldn't, and couldn't afford to adopt. My father worked nights in the produce business, and one day he came into work and his boss, who felt terrible for him and loved him, handed him a check. It was the money to adopt a child.

Charles:               

Oh my heavens!

Mindy Grossman:           

I was that child. So from the time I was very little, I was always told I could do anything I wanted to do, and that nothing could stop me if that's what my dream was. But at the same time, I felt this very deep sense of responsibility to do something with this gift, as you will. So I was very serious. I finished high school at 16, as a junior, went into college. I got engaged when I was 19, I was an English literature and philosophy major, and I was planing to go to law school in the fall. It was a very prescriptive, dutiful, you know this is kind of the dream. I was in my last semester, senior year at college, and I literally had this epiphany that this wasn't what my true dream was.

Charles:               

Did something trigger that realization?

Mindy Grossman:           

I always say it was like a moment, I'm sure it was a lot longer than a moment. But I finally got to the point where, if I didn't take the risk and not do it now, it'd be that much more complicated later. Why should I go down a path that I knew was not inherently right for me. That's why I say to people, not taking the risk is generally riskier than taking the risk in the first place. So called my parents, broke my engagement, told them I wasn't going to law school.

Charles:               

What was their reaction?

Mindy Grossman:           

Shock, and said I was moving to New York, and I was going to figure it out. I blurted out, "I know I want to do something more creative. I know I may not be the creator, but I want to be in the business of creativity." That moment really defined for me that I needed businesses, environments where they were going to expand my mind. They were going to satisfy my insatiable curiosity of learning. That's what a lot of creativity is, right? It's applying curiosity, applying talent and all that. So I moved to New York, and I ended up in the fashion business. In the men's business for the first 18 years, where I was very fortunate to work with very different, talented designers. From Jeffrey Banks, to Willi Smith, to Tommy Hilfiger, and then to Ralph Lauren.

But being in the business of applying creativity to product or environment, or branding. To this day, I feel that what is differentiated me throughout business, was seeing the possibilities. Having an insatiable curiosity, and applying creativity to the monetization of business.

Charles:               

How old were you when you discovered you were adopted?

Mindy Grossman:          

I always remember knowing, which I think is a wonderful thing because it made me feel special versus different.

Charles:               

Did you ever find out who your birth parents were?

Mindy Grossman:           

I get asked that, I already know who my parents were. I really never had that curiosity, because I'm a believer that I had an incredible growing up, and my parents are who really influenced me. Now I would say technology today, so about a year ago or so a friend of mine bought me a 23andMe, and I grew up Jewish. In my head I think I was convinced I was Italian. I found out I'm English/Irish.

Charles:               

Really?

Mindy Grossman:           

It's kind of interesting.

Charles:               

Yeah, isn't it? The perceptions we have about ourselves, and the stories we tell ourselves.

Mindy Grossman:           

But what's so important is how you define family, and how you define who you are, and what you believe in is so personal and so much about your own personal philosophy. You know, I speak about this. I spoke at this AJC event a couple of months ago, about the power of diversity, and who we all inherently are as human beings. You need to embrace that, because here I was, I was brought up Jewish, I had an incredible upbringing. Parents who worked really hard, who were the descendants of Eastern Europeans, and the first generation to go to college. Then you find out that a whole other family crossed an ocean to come here, and you've derived the benefit of both. Isn't that what this country is about? That's why I'm so passionate about opportunity and diversity, and embracing all of that.

Charles:               

It's such a powerful story, because I think to your point there is so much credit given to title, in terms of family. Not enough attention I think, paid to behavior. Like how do you show up? Clearly in your case, what an incredible example of people who desperately wanted to be parents, and who then when given the opportunity really invested full of themselves in what that process meant, and looked at it through your lens. Like what does this person need us to be as a parent, or as parents?

Mindy Grossman:           

I could not agree with you more. Just this idea of I would say to a degree unconditional love, but also empowerment of saying, again I grew up, "You can do anything you want." So I just assumed I could. There was no question that if there was an obstacle, how do you creatively make sense of that, or how do you move around it, or don't let it quash what you want to do.

I think the other thing it allowed me to do was, that moment when I did make that decision, nothing felt risky anymore. Growing up my mother had this expression, that everything in life is bashert. In Yiddish, it means it was meant to be. So I have applied that to everything, so I don't look backwards. It's not like you don't make mistakes, or you don't like the result of an outcome. But if that didn't happen, something else might have happened.

So how do you learn from it and move forward, and have a more optimistic view of what you want to do? I think if you have that philosophy, it inherently makes you more comfortable with decision making and risk taking, and being able to look at yourself in the eyes and admit when you're wrong and take a different course. But not be so resolute that you have to keep banging against the same wall, and that idea of flexibility and agility, and moving forward, I think is really important today.

Charles:               

Really important, and to be brought up with the inherent belief that you have the right to choose what is right for you. Even at that moment where, as you said your path was set. To have been brought up in a way that allowed you to recognize for yourself, I don't have to do this. I can choose something else. Such a gift.

Mindy Grossman:           

It kind of was formative of my career. I've always zigged when people think I'm going to zag, and for nine times out of ten they're like, what is she doing now? But everything was pretty purposeful. I've looked through the lens of, I have this mantra, passion, purpose and impact. If I put everything through the lens, we're doing a lot of work right now at Weight Watchers on the future of our brand and our impact.

We've developed kind of a purpose filter that we're putting everything through. I think as a human being you need to have a purpose filter, of what is right for you and your beliefs, and what won't fit through that filter is even more important than what fit through that filter. I think I've always applied. So what many think was a bold move, or a risky move, or a "she's crazy" move, was actually pretty thought out and strategic. Even if it didn't look so on the surface.

Charles:               

Context is everything, isn't it?

Mindy Grossman:           

Always.

Charles:               

To your point, having purpose is context. When did you start to recognize that purpose was important to you personally, and that you had one?

Mindy Grossman:           

Yeah, you know, I think it's evolved. What I think it means is, you can be really passionate about something. But there's a difference between a career and a hobby. So I think where the purpose comes in, is it purposeful? Is it going to take a business somewhere, is it going to take you somewhere, is it going to take other people? Then frankly, will it truly have impact? In my first job impact was, can I just do the best job I can and can I help make my team successful, or my boss successful, at the time. That philosophy of, if you really invest in making other people successful, ultimately the business and you will be more successful because people are going to want to do the same to you. That was a very important element for me.

You can have impact at every single stage in your career, and you keep evolving. So today, I have been very fortunate enough to be in a place where I have a platform. If I don't use that platform to speak about things that I think are important, and I think will help people or change the way people think. Then I've kind of wasted 40 years of a career, if I can't give back and apply my learnings or my philosophies, and help support other people who are early in their journey. I think position comes with responsibility. Yes, is it terrific that I can also contribute financially. You know, I'm Vice Chairman of the US fund for UNICEF, my husband and I are involved with a lot of scholarship programs at Colombia and Cambridge. We've done other work, and so that's certainly important to us. But using your voice today, is that much more important if you can.

Charles:               

You said you were fortunate to have a platform. Have you been conscious of building one throughout your career?

Mindy Grossman:           

I've been very conscious of taking responsibility. Whether that is, when I joined Nike for example, which was an incredible experience. I'd been working for Ralph Lauren, I'd built Polo Jeans company, it got acquired by another company and then I had an opportunity to speak to this gentleman named Phil Knight. It was an incredible experience and he was coming back into the company, and really looking to reenergize and bring in a new. I was the first person they'd ever hired from the outside to run their global apparel business, and first person out of the apparel business, and woman. The most senior woman in the organization.

This was a company with great intent, but I think they didn't understand at the time, why they had what they called regrettable losses. That they weren't retaining high level female talent to the degree that they wanted to. So for me, it was this incredible opportunity to say, "Well look I'm in this position. I will work and I will build a team, and we will identify what we have to do to really be as inclusive a company as we can. To attract, nurture, retain and develop talent."

I was given the ability and the support to be able to do that, and started the first Global Women's Leadership Council, and brought in catalysts to do an inclusion survey and change some of the hiring practice, and succession planning. It was so powerful to realize the impact that you could have, not just for the women in the organization, but the organization as a whole. It's really about enlightenment because I do think that in some cases people do have best intent, they just need awareness of what diversity and inclusion really is, and what behaviors have impact.

I'd say that was a really pivotal moment for me, when you marry a feeling of responsibility to what you can do to help and empower other people. I've just really built upon that. Yes, it's great to be CEO and great to be able to talk about your business, and momentum and what you're trying to do, and consumer ... But when you talk about the impact that you could have on people's futures and you could just give them a certain amount of wisdom, or be there, that is that much more powerful.

Charles:               

You said you got hired at Nike as the first senior woman who had ever come in from outside. Were you conscious of that at that moment, and did that matter to you at that particular point?

Mindy Grossman:           

It mattered very much to me. But it also, what was interesting about the Nike experience, you know I went from running a $450,000,000 division that I built. But pretty much North America to this big multinational global. Running a three billion dollar matrixed portfolio of businesses. It was the first time where I also did a lot of kind of introspective work in my mind and said, "You know what? I kind of need to understand how I can manage this and be better." No-one has to tell you the power of coaching and mentorship, so it was when I really started working with an executive coach, with David [inaudible].

It was really when the moment came when I realized just the power of self-awareness, and how your impact is so palpable when you get to different levels of leadership. How you have a responsibility to be able to lead people and know yourself, and know the impact of your actions on others. How you can inspire people, and how equally you can do the opposite, which none of us want. Today I have the philosophy of how can I get better every single day? How can I have a better impact on the business, how can I have a better impact on people, how can I have a better impact on people's lives in particular, with what I'm doing today? So I think that combination of self-awareness and leadership today, is critically important.

Charles:               

How do you think you've maintained that balance and that perspective? Because it would be easy for somebody who's had the success that you had, to see themselves through the lens that the rest of the world want to see you as. Look at this extraordinary successful leader, man or woman. How have you maintained this equilibrium to say, "I want to be better tomorrow than I was today, where does that come from?"

Mindy Grossman:           

Well the reality is, I don't look at myself as better than anybody else. I look at how can I be the best person that I can be, and what are my expectations of myself, and that's very important to me. I feel grateful and fortunate every day, given where I came from, to be where I am. I don't take that for granted. I think that's very important. So how can you actually apply what you've learned to other people.

 I find that the best leaders that, certainly I've worked with, Phil certainly being one of them, are equal part innovative, humanity is very important to them, culture is very important to them. This ongoing pursuit of, how can you be the best you can be? To use the Nike expression, there is no finish line, and there isn't.

Charles:               

You've been successful from very early on in your career, and before we get into the Nike and beyond era, I don't want to be remiss and miss out the formative part. So you came to New York at 20. You walked into the fashion business with no previous experience of it.

Mindy Grossman:           

Actually my first job, I was the assistant to the president of an international division of a company called Manhattan Industries, which was a multi brand portfolio company of mostly menswear businesses. I'll never forget in my interview the gentleman, Fred [inaudible] said, "Do you take shorthand?" I went, "No, but I take fast longhand." It was the first time I realized, okay. We can apply creativity to different things. He was terrific, and I was there for a year. I realized that a woman in that company was not going to be fostered to really move ahead, as fantastic as he was.

I was fortunate to work a young African American designer named Jeffrey Banks, who had a menswear company. He just saw something in me and I think I was 21, he probably wasn't much older. He had worked for Ralph Lauren and then started his own business, and I worked with him. Then the company decided they didn't want to be in the high-end business. So I went to work for another designer and all of a sudden, he called me two years later and said, "I've just become the creative director for this company called Merona Sport. It is going to be next rocket." This is in the 80's, he goes, "And you need to come with me," and I did.

That talks about the power of relationship. I always say I'm probably not the smartest person in the room, but I've built real relationships of mutual respect, and doing things I don't have to do because I want to do. When you build that sort of true network, that is really what has helped me along the way. Went to Merona Sport, which really did take off. It was pretty much a phenomenon in those days, and then I became Vice President of Jeffrey Banks Menswear, I think I was 26 years old. It was exciting.

Then there was a designer named Willi Smith, who was one of the first designers to really democratize fashion. Way before Target ever did it. Also, African American designer, first one to really believe that fashion came from the street up, not couture down. It goes to creativity. First designer to do partnerships with artists like Barbara Kruger and Keith Haring. Instead of a fashion show he did a film with Max Vadukul on the Senegalese National Ballet. First designer to do a fashion show at the Puck building.

So that experience, in the four years, and I take something from everyone. But with Willi this art meets culture meets fashion, and that culture influences everything we do, never left me. Never left me. And we're seeing it more today than this mashup of how everything influences everything. Hence, DJ Khaled and Weight Watchers, right? Worked for Willi, me and my husband getting married while I was working there. Unfortunately he was one of the casualties of AIDS. That certainly affected a lot of the fashion business.

Then I had the wonderful experience of going to work for Tommy Hilfiger, when it was just on its growth, when Silas Chou and Laurence Stroll came into the company with Joel and Tommy. I was heading up merchandising and sales for their men's business. I had my daughter while I was working there and it was really a pivotal moment, because I kept getting approached to go run CHAPS Ralph Lauren at the time, which was a small business. I'm like, this company's going through the roof, why would I leave? Finally, someone said, "Well would you meet with Ralph and Peter?" And I did, Ralph can be very convincing.

I looked at myself and I said, "Look, there's very few opportunities that somebody is going to let a woman at my age be president of a menswear company. I really see what I think I can do with the company. People are going to think I'm crazy, it's a division of a company run by a very controversial CEO, a woman, actually." But I said, "I think I can do this." You know when I left, people thought I was crazy as usual. Went and took the business from zero to £250'000'000 in three years. Not zero, but close. Eventually took over all over of the menswear properties for the company, and was really on a growth path.

I had another epiphany. I really did not agree with the culture of the company and the way the CEO was treating people within the company. Not necessarily me, I was performing. But it was an environment of toxicity, and I felt very strongly that if I stayed at the company I was complicit. That I was accepting the fact that just because I was doing well that this was acceptable, and it wasn't. I will never forget, I went home one night and I said to my husband, "I'm resigning tomorrow. I don't have another job." I had a little child but I said, "I know I'm doing the right thing, and it's going to be okay." I went in the next day and I resigned, and I had the CEO look at me and go, "You're either independently wealthy, you have another job or you're stupid." I said, "Or D, none of the above," and I was escorted out by security.

But I knew it was the right thing to do, as much as there was a moment standing on the corner on Park Avenue where I was like, "What did I just do?" I was very fortunate the next day, Ralph and Peter called me and said, "We're really sorry you left, but if you're going anywhere we'd like you to work with us." It validated to my core that when you do the right thing for the right reasons, that was another pivotal point in my career. Who knows what would have happened if I stayed and there were a lot of issues at the company?

So I say to a lot of young people, "When you decide where you want to work, or what opportunities you want; you must understand the values and the culture of the company and who you're going to be working with, are as important as what the financial opportunity could be or what it's going to look like. Because, it's your personal brand at the end of the day. It's very important for you to understand that."

Charles:               

Why do you think it's so hard for so many people to do the right thing for the right reason? What gave you the ability in that moment, in that environment, in that sort of circumstances, to stand there and say, "I know the right thing, and I'm brave enough to do it."

Mindy Grossman:           

My feeling is that not doing the right thing would have a much more significant and negative consequence for my career, because again who you are affiliated to, what companies you've built, and who you've surrounded yourself with today, are also what people are going to look at. Look what's happening, you saw the Golden Globes last night, and you've heard the stories that have just become rampant around whether it's diversity or whether it's culture, whether it's how people are being treated.

I would say it's not like I've never put myself in any environment that would not respect and value and tolerate. I have a philosophy that I cannot abide toxicity. I have let people go who are wildly talented, wildly talented. That people have said, "What are we going to do?" I said, "We're going to do the right thing because you know what's going to happen if we do not do this, you are going to lose your other talent." That's what the hard thing is for people. They're just looking at the moment and they're not looking at the residual effect of what this causes within a company. I think we're seeing that in society today.

Charles:               

I think from a business lens, creativity scares people doesn't it? They're scared that they can't replace it and they're scared that there's something magical about that person. They'll put up with incredible amounts of toxicity. I couldn't agree with you more, I think when companies say, "We have standards and we have values, and we don't care how talented you are. We have enough confidence in ourselves that we will replace that," and it will be better for everybody. Those are the companies that I think will ultimately be successful.

Mindy Grossman:           

I could not agree with you more. There's wildly talented people in the world. Unfortunately there is some talent that just cannot abide within an organization, and it becomes insidious. Then people start tiptoeing around, all those sort of things that we've heard of. I think the best cultures are ones that everyone is aligned, they're inspired with a purpose. They're motivated to support one another.

You know, if you look at the world today, there are very few companies that are not going to have to be some form of a matrix. Whether it's because they're global, or the integration of analog and digital, or end to end marketing, or all different things. So what we have to move from is this perspective of ownership is power to influence is power, and where can you make the greatest impact. For so long people thought that, "Well if I have more stuff, I'm more powerful." My philosophy is, "I'd rather you have one thing, and have it have huge impact, than five things and we're not really having an impact."

So trying to get people to understand what that impact word, and what they can do with what they have, and how to get people thinking 10x versus incremental. Those things are a lot more exciting to talk to people about, and to inspire them to do.

Charles:               

Are you conscious of evolving your personal philosophy? I'm very conscious listening to you that you've got a very clearly articulated philosophy, which is rare in my experience. Are you constantly thinking about that? When somebody asks you the question, "Is this a thought you've had before, or are you planning it?"

Mindy Grossman:           

So I believe I have a core philosophy but it doesn't mean that I'm not perpetually learning, and thinking, and how should I be thinking differently? The world is moving at this breakneck speed. So if I'm telling our organization that agile is the new smart, I've got to be able to abide by that as well. I was reading Thomas Friedman's new book and it's what used to be a five year plan, is now a five month plan. You're not going to sit with a consultant and do a ten year plan. You've really got to be able to have targets, and you have to have goals, and you have to have aspirations. But with the world the way it is today, you have to be able to iterate and you have to be able to learn, and you have to be able to move people in unison collaboratively, to be the most effective they can.

So even myself, I've had to be more open to moving more quickly. But at the same time, be cognizant of the impact on the organization, and actually be a bit more process oriented. To say, "Okay, we need to move quickly. But as this trickles down through the organization, are we ready? Have we thought of this? Have we made the right strategic moves?" All those things. So you have to do both at the same time.

Charles:               

You work with very large organizations. Your career has kind of stair-stepped up through bigger and bigger organizations. When you walk into a new situation and you're conscious, and you're dealing with moving a large organization into pretty dramatically different directions; previously with HSN and clearly with Weight Watchers, what's you approach towards creating that kind of change?

Mindy Grossman:           

So I think the first thing, and I think I'll use HSN as an example, how you show up at the very beginning is the most important thing. How you want people to perceive you as a leader, and to know you, and what sort of culture do you espouse. So I was the eighth CEO in ten years, and the business had not been performing. When you have that kind of dramatic turnover, I always use the joke it's like Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, because things freeze. Because everybody's just waiting for the other change. So before you can walk into a new situation, you have to understand where the current culture is, what the organization has been through, and then say, "Well how do you think they're thinking?" Then, "How should I be thinking of that?"

So I remember talking to the Head of HR, and she said, "Well what do you want to do in your first day?" I said, "Well what does every employee do in their first day?" She said, "Well they go to employee orientation." I go, "Well that's what I want to do." She said, "Really?" I go, "Really." It's a big 60 acre campus. I said, "Because what I understand is that the company felt that the former CEOs were very Ivory Tower, that they really didn't understand, and so I think I have to make a statement that I really want to be accessible and I want transparency, and I want to learn. I want to learn from the people here." So I showed up at orientation and I'll never forget. We're going around the room, "Hi, I'm backstage TV," "I'm merchandising," "I'm sales." I'm like, "I'm the new CEO."

I spent the day from the call center again, to the studios, to every area. QA, and it really went viral that there's something different here. So by the next day when I did my town hall, my first town hall, I was able to talk about my experience. I was able to see why I was excited to be there and why this company had such potential, and a future. Why I made this decision to leave Nike, because I saw the power in what was there. Just the fact that somebody was approaching it from that point of view, and talking about leadership. But I also said, "Look. I understand what you've and I'm sure there are going to be three types of people. There are going to be the evangelists that are there. There are going to be the let's wait and see what this one brings. Then there'll be the blockers, and I'm sorry, that's not going to work. So we're either all going to work together ... "

I think the other thing is people look at the first things you do, and I think too many new CEOs who are going into a company that maybe wasn't performing so great, they assume that the people aren't that good. The reality is, it's usually that it's the leadership wasn't that good. I think there were some great people there, and recognizing that. Obviously somebody had to keep the company together, but then there were big gaps. So how do you have this great mix of people who've been within the company, and then people you're bringing in based on where you want the company to go in the future.

Then the second thing I really had to do there was make people believe that they were valued and respected, and that you care about them. We had a failing infrastructure, I mean the roofs were coming in a little bit. I kept thinking, what can I do? I'll never forget, so Harvard Business Review did an article on this, that I kept thinking ... I moved to New York in 1977, but then when Giuliani became mayor, the first thing he did was clean up all the graffiti on the subway. It was the tipping for how New York started caring about itself again. I kept saying, "What's my graffiti?" I said, "What can I afford to do?"

I was walking around the campus, and I saw all of these broken, mismatched chairs. I said, "Okay. I may not be able to afford everything at once, but I can replace all the chairs." I'll never forget, I called Herman Miller, and I bought 2500 chairs. I told everybody that it was a Friday, it was a cleanup day. I brought all these dumpsters in, and I said, "Growing up my mother said, 'we may not have a lot of money, but we can have pride. You can keep your room clean, and we can keep our house clean.'" So we cleaned up the whole campus, everybody went home and then we took away all the old chairs, and we put in all the new chairs. So, when people came in on Monday morning ... I'll never forget the outpouring of email of, "Thank you. You care about us."

Over the course of the next 10 years, we probably spent $60,000,000 renovating the campus, and state of the art. But those chairs were a watershed moment, and so I always tell people, "Think of the smaller things that you can do that make people feel valued, and that you're investing in them as part of the future." It's really important.

Charles:               

How simple, and how profound. What an extraordinary reference point. There are so many places I would like to go. As you look back at your career, what was the hardest decision for you to make? What was the one that scared you most in the moment?

Mindy Grossman:           

So I would say, when I actually was making the decision to potentially leave Polo Jeans, and go to Nike. There were three companies I always said I wanted to work for, Ralph Lauren, Nike and Disney. So I worked for Ralph, I worked for Nike, and I had a big strategic partnership with Disney at [inaudible]. So I figure I got the trifecta.

Charles:               

What was it about those three?

Mindy Grossman:           

I think it was the power of the brands, the fact that they were multidimensional and what I would call true lifestyle, and really meant something to people. I've always wanted brands that truly mean something to people, and feel that those brands have empowered people's lives in different ways.

But I actually turned the job down, because for many reasons I couldn't move my family to Portland. I knew I'd be out of the country a good portion of the time, and I had elderly parents. I remember turning the job down with tears in my eyes. I got a call back from Phil Knight and Charlie Denson saying, "You know, we're willing to make it work if you're willing to make it work." I remember sitting down with my family, family being my husband, my daughter and a nanny, because that had to work, and go, "I don't know, can we do this?" We decided to do it, and I thought I would do this crazy commute. New York, Portland, it's not an easy commute, out of the country-

Charles:               

No it's a tough commute.

Mindy Grossman:           

30% of the time. As much as I wanted to do it, that was scary. Could I manage that all, and was it going to work? It wasn't easy, but my family did support it. But I would say first year going into a new environment, big global business, the back and forth. That was definitely a challenge, as much as I look back now and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. But it was hard for my family. Somehow six years went by doing that. Which, makes me believe resiliency has definitely got to be a trait.

But you know, it was hard at times for my daughter, we talk about it now. I look back and say, "I think I made the right decision." I think in today's world with technology, if I'd had all the technology we had to day, you know I can FaceTime my granddaughter every single day. It probably would've been a little easier. But I was also fortunate that I was working for a company that valued the fact that I was making that sacrifice, and tried to make it as easy as possible for me.

I think in today's world as brands and as employers, we really have to be cognizant of really being a brand that can appreciate that people have very complicated lives in some cases, and how do we create environments and flexibility to allow them; if they're going through a difficult period, to do that. Or if they need some flexibility to do that. I see more and more people realizing that, that's going to be important if you want really attract the great people of the future.

Charles:               

I think that's absolutely right and I think interestingly you do see companies, the better companies certainly, recognizing the fact that they have to be more flexible. They have to invest more in making those kinds of circumstances possible for people. As you were going through your career, as you've gone through your career, speaking about bottom line reality, what have you learned about marrying creativity and commerce? Because obviously you've got this incredible amorphous, frenetic, chaotic entity on one hand, fuel source on one hand. You've got the demands, the rigor, the predictability of commerce on the other. How do you marry those two things?

Mindy Grossman:           

I truly think that the idea of curiosity and creativity combined is what makes magic. There was a move years ago called Working Girl. There's a scene where she's in the elevator and they go, "Well how did you think of that?" They're trying to insinuate that it wasn't her idea. She said, "Well, there's radio and there's trask. I just put trask and radio together, which were two completely disparate things, that you never thought of putting together."

Charles:               

In the New York Post page six I think played a role in that story as well.

Mindy Grossman:           

I'm kind of your trask radio girl, I love taking mashups, or looking at things and saying, "How do you apply them?" Seeing things that other people don't necessarily see, and what I find is that too many people just see what is in front of them. As opposed to, envision what it could be. I think I'm very fortunate that I've only worked for entrepreneurs my entire career. So I'm kind of an entrepreneur that found itself in another environment. I think more that way.

So for example, with HSN, I had a really big challenge. I had a business whose largest competitor was two and a half times it's size. So winning was not going to just emulate what they did. Winning was going to be how did we differentiate ourselves and become the brand that not only consumers wanted to be with, but that other brands wanted to be connected to. I said, "We are going to become the storytelling brand. We are going to become editorial programmed lifestyle." The aha my trask radio moment when I was thinking of joining, and I was getting ready to meet Barry Diller; I'm watching HSN, which I'd not been that familiar with, and I'm going, "What would I do? What would I do? How could I reimagine this so it's not just selling."

At the time, so this was 2006 or so, I was very enamored with the food network, loved to cook. I'm watching HSN and I'm going back and forth, and I'm watching Food Network and all of a sudden I go on HSN and I see Wolfgang Puck, who's one of the few personalities on the network at the time. I was mesmerized, he was entertaining me, he was cooking, he was showing mouthwatering food and interesting products. The light bulb went off and I said, "Okay. Why can't we be Food Network HDTV, DIY, style? But we could actually sell the product." So I just said, "It's kind of like if editorial and programming met commerce." That's when I sat down with Barry and I said, "This is the idea."

Now going from idea to reinvention was a different story. We had to relaunch the brand including going from Home Shopping Network to HSN, everything aesthetically. How we even talked about product. I always say a brand is not just a logo, a tagline and a redecorating project. It's at its core, what are you going to mean to the customer. We were going to be her best friend. We were going to be insightful and fun, and your best girlfriend, and all of these things.

But then I had to convince the brands, and that's where relationship and your network comes in, because if you've built that valued network, and you've done things for people not because you have to, but because you want to invest in them. When you then go to people and say, "I have a vision, and will you partner with me?" They're more apt to take a risk because they believe in you, and that you will live up to.

What happened was, we went through every vertical and said, "What do we have to do to change the game?" So in beauty we did a partnership with Sephora, which allowed me to onboard 45 beauty brands that I never could've gotten internally. Or Stephanie Greenfield who owned Scoop at the time, we did Scoop style shows. We then built our chef portfolio out, and added [inaudible]. That changed the entire trajectory of the business, because of all of a sudden we were where creativity lived, and storytelling lived. We would take the time to bring brands to life, not just about selling but telling brand stories, whether it was Lisa Price or Carol's Daughter or any of the other brands.

That was the transformation of the company, and it wouldn't have happened if we were just measuring how many dollars per minute can we do of a water bottle in the next five minutes. We had to think what was right for the brand and right for the future. The second thing that was fortunate in that the six years that I was at Nike, I spent a lot of time in Japan, and a lot of other markets where mobile was entrenched and really embedded in culture and in people's lives. Way before in the US. I said, "We need to be a digital first company."

So we were one of the few companies first out with iPhone application. We invested in the digital assets, and launched our platforms, and first to do live streaming. So we actually invested ahead of the curve. I think having people within your organizations today who aren't necessarily beholden to a specific job, but can be thinking about those innovations and those things that are going to keep you ahead, are very important.

Charles:               

Having those as specific roles, do you mean?

Mindy Grossman:           

Roles or groups, or inspiring people around innovation.

Charles:               

It's a great segway actually, because you've obviously, when you walk into organizations that require change or creating, in some cases as you said you're keeping people, and you're discovering things that maybe they didn't even know about themselves. But in some cases you're making change and bringing new people in. What are you looking for, in terms of people? What kind of attributes do they bring in the first place?

Mindy Grossman:           

So I have a real philosophy. I hire for the human first, and then the resume, to a degree. There are table stakes for me. Humanity, values, a clear path that someone has taken, where they've made thoughtful and strategic decisions, not just to get that one leg up necessarily. That they've been able to take risks, and sometimes rebound from them or sometimes they've not been successful but then they've course corrected. That they're very honest and transparent about that.

I also have another philosophy. Everybody went crazy with the three C's, content, community, commerce. So I said, "Okay, I want the three C's of hiring. I want people who are cool, curious and connected." Now cool does not mean how you dress, cool means that you're interesting. That I really want to talk to you. You're interesting, you're thoughtful, and it probably means it's because you're curious. Which means, if you're curious, you're multifaceted and you're going to learn about things that aren't just within your wheelhouse. Those are the people I actually really like. So you may have come up to a particular area of the business, but you have been determined to learn about other areas, and other businesses outside of yourself. Which, probably means you're connected and you have a network.

So in today's world, I like to think that for every one person I hire, could it actually give the benefit of almost three people, because of what that person brings to the table. I'm finding that more and more today, because we live in a network world. So what I think of, and for example I joined Weight Watchers in July, and I've been certainly in immersion mode of understanding the business. But I've also been in curiosity mode of knowing everything, whether it's health and wellness, or mobility, or what the future of the business is. The science of what we do, and how behavior is changing on people's perception around health. So I've used it as an opportunity to go into my network, and tap into people and say, "I'm curious about this, can I have an hour of your time?"

That's how you learn, and that's how you start formulating strategically where you might want to go, and what cultural influences, or what scientific influences, what global influences are going to be on your business.

Charles:               

You're one of the most successful CEOs of the last 15 years by metrics, according to Forbes and Fortune. You're one of a very, very small group of women who are running Fortune 1000 companies. Why do you think there aren't more female CEOs, and what do you think you have done that separates you from so many other people?

Mindy Grossman:           

Yeah. You know I've said this the other day. I've gone from annoyed, to angered, to this is just not tolerable at this point. I believe that as much as women can lean in, and I applaud Sheryl Sandberg for what the conversation she began. Nothing will change unless men, CEOs, boards, chairmen, identify and say, "There has to be change." If you think about it, there is quantitative and qualitative evidence from Catalyst, from McKinsey, from Harvard, that companies that are more diverse across all area of diversity, have longer term sustainable success.

So my feeling is, that if that is not inherently the core value of the company, you're basically saying to your shareholders, "We don't want to be as successful as we can." That's not tolerable. People have to hold themselves accountable, and it's very easy to rationalize. Everybody can rationalize. It's just not acceptable in today's world. As much as it's really unfortunate what is coming out of what transpired, the only positive is that now can we really create change? Will people hold themselves accountable?

If you think about, you've got 50 out of 1000 CEOs in the Fortune 1000 for are female. You have less that are African American. You're not going to change that in two years, so you really have to start at the fundamental succession level, and you have to hold managers accountable for diversity of teams. You have to measure against that. I'm not saying you need quotas, but I am saying you need measurement. You need acknowledgment, that is critical and it's important. It can't be run by the human resource department. The CEO and the board have to state that this is important for the future of the company. I hope that we're going to be seeing more of that as we move forward, but I think it's critical.

I've been fortunate in that I've worked for more enlightened leaders, and I've put myself in that situation. I don't feel that being a woman has had, let's call it a negative influence on my ability to get ahead. However, I've also taken the riskier jobs, and that is something that's been written about, for women to feel that they can get ahead, they will. There's pluses and minuses in that. So I've been willing to do that, and luckily it's worked out. But I do think that we have to truly have accountability, and people have to own it.

Charles:               

You said earlier that you've worked exclusively, I think, for entrepreneurs. That's true, right?

Mindy Grossman:           

Yes.

Charles:               

Was that by choice do you think, as you look back? Or subconsciously were you drawn to the kind of attributes that they tend to exhibit?

Mindy Grossman:           

You know, I think subconsciously perhaps. But they've been very different. I'd say from Ralph it was really the power of brand, and learning that it's more important to learn what to say no to as a brand, than even what to say yes to. To Ralph, innovation, inspiration and humanity in leadership, while holding yourself accountable. I'd say Barry Diller, risk taking and boldness are the essence of transformation. So I think I've been able to take something away from each one. The one thing that I think went across is true belief, and passion, and ultimately what you wanted to create, and what you wanted to. The fortitude to press ahead, and continue to build on what that core belief is.

I feel that today, in the Weight Watchers business, is we're working to transform our business from not just about weight, but to a holistic approach to health and wellness. What does that mean, and how do we move forward? But how do we really define the core essence of the brand, are our relationship with people. This is a brand that I'm very excited about. As much as I've tried to always have positive impact, no matter what business I've been in, the true understanding of, if we can really grow the business successfully and have a financial return on equity. The human impact that we can have is so powerful that the people in the company, I've been really excited to see that yes, they're there to do a job, but the people there also understand that the purpose of this company, and I'm telling you, people today especially young people, they want brands with a purpose. They want to know if they're contributing, what it's going to do.

I think every brand, no matter what business you're in, really had to understand their purpose statement and what they're contributing in the world. Whether you're selling something, creating something, helping people do something. I think it's got to be a starting point of table stakes for people. If you look at Weight Watchers, it started 54 years ago as a way of transforming people's lives through habit and community. That is that much more powerful today, because of technology and what it's enabled us to do. Now we can even add personalization to that, and we can globalize what it is we're doing and touch that many people.

I get asked, "Who do we want to touch?" I said, "Well, people that have bodies." No, because everybody today wants to live a better life, and they want to be healthier, and they want the tools to do that. Competitively it really is less about other brands and more about people really feeling this themselves, when we could be their partner really to educate, inspire and teach people what being healthier means.

Charles:               

Yeah, I think that's very powerful. I interviewed Vanessa Friedman a couple of weeks ago. I was interested to hear here talk about the fact that fashion brands, she believes, have got to figure what their purpose is if they're going to-

Mindy Grossman:           

I could not agree with you more.

Charles:               

It's absolutely essential. What would people be surprised to know about you that they don't already know?

Mindy Grossman:           

Oh dear. You know, I don't know. I'm pretty much kind of what you get. I just believe in really, not quite radical transparency, but to a degree. I think the days of being able to separate your life into segments, it's just really not there because you have one life. You just have show up as who you are. I think for many years women thought they had to show up as a different person in the workplace as they did outside, and I would find that very difficult for me. So I remember when I did my first town hall with Weight Watchers, I said, "Yes, I'll talk about why I want to join the company. But I also wanted to tell people about me. I wanted them to know about my family, I want them to know what I think about being a grandma, how I love traveling around the world and trekking. You know, whatever it is. They need to know the human side of me. I'm sure sometimes, maybe to a fault.

Charles:               

There's a risk to that, and a vulnerability to that.

Mindy Grossman:           

There's a certain vulnerability to that, and you know. There's degrees that you could go. Let's be realistic. But I do think that one thing. I think the other thing is kind of the hobby or the fun side. My husband and I have a winery, which if, you really want a crazy business, that's one of them. Up in upstate New York. He was in the financial markets and he's semi retired. I probably made the mistake of saying, "Go find something." So yeah, now Elizabeth Vineyards at Canoe Hill. That spawned growing gardens and thousand pounds of potatoes later, we're selling markets.

So I really like anything that has some form of creativity attached to it, and learning, and perpetual learning.

Charles:               

Somebody once said to me, you want to know how they end up with a million dollars? He said, "Start with ten million dollars and start a winery."

Mindy Grossman:           

Yeah, I've heard the similar expression. If you want a small fortune, start a winery. It's a lot of work, but it really is very creative, it is very creative.

Charles:               

What are you afraid of?

Mindy Grossman:           

I would say that there was a lot of what I think fueled me in the beginning that said, I've had this incredible trajectory and all of that. God, what if somebody ... Is it real? Or am I just lucky, or what am I doing? Could it all be gone? That idea of I can't fail, I can't fail, I can't fail. But on top of it, I had that feel but I kept taking risks. So I guess today, I definitely, you know I turn 60 in September and started this new fantastic opportunity. I wouldn't say it's fear, but I really feel this responsibility to truly do whatever I can to have the type of impact that I think we can. Because this really can change lives, and there's a responsibility factor with that, to do it. To have it be sustainable. I guess at this point in my life, and I don't want to use the  word, leave a legacy. I just want to feel that anything we're building will sustain itself and grow, and be that much more successful even after I'm not there. That's the most important thing to me.

Charles:               

I wrap every show with three takeaways that I've heard, that I think contribute to your success. So let me throw these at you. One is a real awareness, which I think manifests also in self-awareness, about what's happening and what are the influences that are important. Two is taking awareness and that recognition and that understanding, and codifying it in effect, and turning it into a philosophy or a series of philosophies, in a very conscious way. Then third I would say, is your open-mindedness, which manifests in some degrees in terms of your curiosity. But your open-mindedness to seeing different kinds of possibility, both in the world beyond, in the immediate environment around you, and in yourself. Those three I think together, are really present for me, certainly listening to you, getting to know. Do those resonate with you?

Mindy Grossman:           

No, they absolutely resonate. So I am asked what my favorite characters are and everything. I'm a huge Winnie the Pooh fan.

Charles:               

Me too.

Mindy Grossman:           

There's a couple of reasons why. One is the New York Times when they did corner office, the headline for me was, "She only hires Tiggers, not Eeyores." I want to surround myself with positivity and optimism. The two, the second with Winnie the Pooh is never lose this childlike curiosity. Never think you know too much, and you're not open to learn, because you can surprise yourself at every juncture if you put yourself out there. Never lose that sense of wonder, right? Because that's what we all want, and that's what we want to surround ourselves with.

Charles:               

I can't wrap it any better that. Mindy, thank you so much for being here. It's been such a joy.

Mindy Grossman:           

Thank you for having me, it's been fun.