In 1963, Jean Nidetch was desperate. She wasn’t desperate to lose weight. In fact, she had lost 20lbs over the previous year. No, Jean Nidetch was desperate to keep the weight off. So she invited 6 friends over to her house to talk about it. Not to talk about solutions. Or fads. Or calories. Just to meet in a safe space and vent about their problems. The solutions would come later. And when the 6 women in that room did decide to go on a diet, they pledged to keep each other accountable.
On May 13th, 1963 Jean, her husband, and another woman in that room incorporated a company whose mission was to support people who wanted to lose weight. To watch each other’s backs. They called the company Weight Watchers.
I honestly cannot overstate what a big deal Weight Watchers is. There was nothing else like them in 1963, and for decades they were the only people pairing science, psychology, and capitalism to help people manage their weight. Their philosophy, as stated in 1963, was to “assist members in losing weight by forming helpful habits, eating smarter, getting more exercise and providing support.” That sentence was written 52 years ago and I’m sad to say that it sounds cutting edge today.
Weight Watchers was founded as a community, by a community, to help a community. But if you think this community stuff is hippie bullcrap, let me break their most recent 10-K filing down for you.
- In 1968, 5 years after its founding Weight Watchers went public with 5 million people enrolled.
- in 1978, Weight Watchers was bought by Heinz for $71.2 million ($269 million in 2015 dollars).
- They currently employ 21,000 people.
- Each week, approximately 800,000 members attend over 36,000 Weight Watchers meetings around the world.
- They have 1.5 million active online subscribers.
- In 2014, Weight Watchers brought in $1.5 billion in revenue.
- People spent approximately $5 billion on Weight Watchers branded products and services.
According to Marketdata Enterprises, the weight management industry had revenue of approximately $60.5 billion in 2013 in the United States. Only one company in that industry has more than $1 billion in revenue, and it was founded when Jean Nidetch invited 6 women into a room and said, “I’ll watch your back.”
No company in our industry has touched more lives, made more value, or made more cold, hard cash than Weight Watchers. And while their brand and their business has seen better days and their methods can seem outdated and silly, they are still helping more people than all the people you’ve ever met at Perform Better combined and multiplied by 100.
Jean Nidetch died today at the age of 91. And her dedication to community not only made her an international icon and best-selling author, it made her and everyone around her very, very rich. Doing good business and helping people are not mutually exclusive. Community and commerce go hand-in-hand and the examples are not small ones you've never heard of. Like Weight Watchers, they're often so big and obvious we take them for granted.