Here's a glimpse into the future of living healthy

Brian Sozzi

The future of living a healthy life will include a lot more tech and a lot more use of data.

That is the overarching takeaway from an in-depth chat Thursday with WW International CEO Mindy Grossman and Susan G. Komen CEO Paula Schneider at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit. Grossman tells Yahoo Finance WW is on the cusp of rolling out virtual training sessions for its more than 4.6 million members. Meanwhile, Schneider is using big data to unearth funding opportunities to support breast cancer research.

What follows is an edited and condensed version of the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit interview.

Brian Sozzi: Well let's dive right in here. Two former retail executives. That's how I know you best. But Mindy, let me start with you. You came into Weight Watchers. You just passed your — or WW, I should say, you just passed your two year mark. When you got in there, what were some of the health issues that you thought were mission critical that you had to challenge?

Mindy Grossman: Well, Brian, the reason why I joined the company is I thought there was an incredible opportunity to take this 56-year-old brand that has been transforming people's lives through the best in science as it relates to healthy nutrition for weight loss and fostered on community. But the world has changed. And there was even a greater opportunity for us to be able to be that partner to people in a holistic way. So not just the number one, you know, weight management system, but a whole ecosystem of health. And now that I've been there, and once I got there, I realized that not only was it an opportunity but it was a responsibility for us as a brand, given where the health trajectory of the world is going, which every report that's come out has gotten worse, not better.

And the reality is, for us to have an impact on that health trajectory, it's really giving people an ecosystem of tools to help sustainable, long-term livable behavior change. And so what we've built in that period of time is an ecosystem around nutrition for weight loss and healthy eating, putting the science behind activity and fit points and integrating audio fitness, mindset and mindfulness, motivation, all built on the power of community. So, it really is science led technology enabled and community focused.

And today, we have 4.6 million members, and the trajectory of their lives is changing. So how much more can we really do?

Sozzi: And Paula, you had to learn a whole new set of language, a whole new lingo, going from retail to the CEO of Susan G. Komen. What did you view as mission critical when you got into the company?

Paula Schneider: Well, mission critical was understanding, you know, we had a bold goal, and our bold goal is to decrease deaths in breast cancer by 50% by 2026. So, that's the North Star. And understanding if that's the North Star, and that's not just words on a page, what do you have to do? So, we had to do two things. One is dealing with disparities in health care, because if we can determine that, you know, your living isn't dependent on where you live, right? That's one thing.

And then the other side of it is, there's nothing that's going to cure breast cancer with the exception of research. So, it's really focusing in on those two areas and then there's a whole stream of things that go on below that, but making sure that those are the things that we focus on.

WW International CEO Mindy Grossman, left, and Susan G. Komen CEO Paula Schneider participate in the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit at Union West on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
WW International CEO Mindy Grossman, left, and Susan G. Komen CEO Paula Schneider participate in the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit at Union West on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Sozzi: That's a big number, to reduce breast cancer by 50% by 2026. Where are you at with that mission?

Schneider: It's about 2 and 1/2 — about 3 years old. It hasn't gone down yet, but there's things that we're working on, so that we can try to do that. When I say it's a North Star and a bold goal, it's not easy. It's not going to be easy. But, you know, we have our scientific advisory board that helped us to figure out that this is something that we can do. We feel that... if we can get people to the health care that exists today and the disparities in health care, we can change that deficit by about 30%, and the rest of it is going to come from research.

Grossman: That democratization is so important. Because similar to Paula, when we came out with, you know, our new impact manifesto of we inspire healthy habits for real life, for people, families, communities, the world, for everyone, that for everyone is really important, because that's really the only way to truly have impact.

Sozzi: Mindy, out of all the initiatives that you've launched going on two-plus years, is your focus, I believe, over the summer on kids via a new app, I believe, called Kurbo? What made you make that decision?

Grossman: Well, I just, kind of, spoke to our purpose. And if you look at the statistics, we certainly have an obesity epidemic around the world. If you look in the U.S., the adult population, over 60% are overweight, or obese, and you have the trickle-down effect of diabetes. But what really hit me early on was a report that said that today's 2-year-old — and I have a 2 and 1/2 year old grandchild — has a better chance of growing up to be obese and unhealthy than being healthy. And it's very problematic. We have a youth obesity problem that is growing very rapidly.

And so we said, what could we do? And what do we need to understand? So, we formed a youth and family advisory board in addition to the scientific advisory board that we have under our Chief Scientific Officer, and spent a lot of time with 24 experts, 7 different countries, and all the research on everything from youth obesity, eating disorders, family dynamics, behavioral science, et cetera. And we then identified Kurbo, which science is out of Stanford. We acquired the company and we spent a year working on, really, creating an experience that could help families, not just youth and teen.

And it's very efficacious. It's been very successful. In addition to the WW program. So, it's Kurbo by WW. And you know, not everybody understands.

Sozzi: It was a bit controversial. Were you surprised by that?

Grossman: No. I was not surprised by it. Look, anytime you're going to do something that's first, or something that's different, you're going to have, you know, loud factions, small factions. But just like every single thing we do, nothing is done without the science behind it, nothing is done without research, and nothing is done that cannot be sustainable, and it's not going to have a positive impact on youth and families, which it does. So, it's definitely an important element of our ecosystem going forward.

Sozzi: Paula, you mentioned health care disparities. What does — I know you're sitting on a lot of data at Susan G. Komen — is that data telling you about some of the bigger challenges out there?

Schneider: Well, if you are African-American and you get breast cancer, you're 40% more likely to die than if you're me. And I'm a breast cancer survivor. You know, if you're Hispanic, it's the number one killing cancer for Hispanics. So, there's a lot of information and a lot of data that talks about the disparities in health care. But it's not just about socioeconomics, it's not just about, you know, where you live, it's also cultural. There's a lot of underlying factors. And what we're doing is we are in 11 cities that we are working through our disparities, our African-American disparities initiative. And these are big cities, there's Los Angeles and DC.

And, you know, major cities all across the United States where the death rates are the highest. And we're doing a landscape analysis to find out, because it's not just giving out mammogram vouchers, because, you know, many people get mammograms, more people still die if you are of color. So you know, there's a lot of work to be done. And we are doing that work, but it's person-by-person, city-by-city. It's a lot of really heavy lifting.

Sozzi: What are you seeing on the funding front?

Schneider: Never enough. OK. But the work that we do is so important. And you know, we are also having — it's been a change in the way that we raise money, too, since I've come in for the past two years, and diversifying our fundraising. A lot of that has to do with being technology based and being able to talk to donors in a way that they can hear, and in a way to fund things that they are very interested in. So, there's a lot of micro-targeting in order to do that. There's also in businesses. And business leaders need to stand up. And they need to do the right thing. And it's something that is imperative. Because, especially with workforces now, it used to be, you know, if you had good pay, and you had good benefits, you were really happy. But now you have to do something that is for the greater good.

Susan G. Komen CEO Paula Schneider participates in the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit at Union West on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Susan G. Komen CEO Paula Schneider participates in the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit at Union West on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Sozzi: Mindy, we were talking backstage a little bit about how you opened recently a store in Kohl's, and that has been a successful venture for you so far, but also tech. You've made a big focus on tech inside the company. How are you using tech to reach the WW subscribers?

Grossman: So as you just said, the biggest investments we've made over the last number of years have been in product and tech. And our feeling is it's not just technology for technology's sake. Our philosophy is that the brands of the future, you were just talking a bit about this, are going to marry technology plus meaning to help people lead better connected lives. And that is our platform. And what a lot of people don't realize is we're actually a technology experience company with what I call a human centric overlay. So, almost five-star rated app. And what we've tried to deliver is really a complete experience to help people 24 hours a day with sustainable behavior change. We have one of the largest food databases in the world. So our point system for everyone is what's available. We have a proprietary barcode scanner. So, 97.5% of everything you scan will come up with the point values. We're able to integrate fit points, audio fitness in this space.

Sozzi: So, it's trying to change behaviors in real time?

Grossman: Try and change behaviors. And technology has to really enable that. Now, we also have 30,000 workshops a week, eight of which are in the Kohl's that you spoke up. And so it's still important that we retain that sense of community that's so core to who we are. So not only do all 4.6 million members have what's called Connect, which is our digital community, which has huge engagement and adoption, but for those that really want the face to face experience and the motivation and inspiration in real time, we can do that, too.

And actually, next year we'll also be adding virtual group coaching. So that element of who we are and what we do is certainly, both the opportunity to really help people further, and it's a competitive advantage.

Sozzi: Both of you have worked on some of the biggest retailers in the game. Do you think big business is doing enough to promote, or help, or enhance, employee health?

Schneider: I think there's a movement in that direction. But do I think it's enough? No. And again, I think leaders need to stand up, and they needed to help, not only their employees, their constituents, all their shareholders, all their stakeholders, to be more healthy. And, you know, there's ways to do that internally. You know, with Mindy in Weight Watchers, what she's trying to do is to make sure that there's stability in health.

What we're trying to do is, if there is a blip in that stability, is to make sure that we can bring people back to good health. [

Grossman: So, we have our Health Solutions business, which I call our B to B to C, because it's a way to get to consumers. So I think companies are talking wellness, but it really has to be ingrained in the culture of the business. It has to go beyond and offer to a core element of how you are helping your employees lead better lives.

Now, given the type of company we are, it's part of our DNA, it's very purpose driven, it's very culture driven. But I really think it has to be more than, you know, check the box, do you want to do this? And really, it has to be led by the CEO. And whether that's diversity, whether that's the importance of health and wellness. You know, the biggest opportunity that we all have is, how do you have, both a financial return on equity and a human return on equity? And it has to start with your employees, and then go to your customers, and then go to the communities.

WW International CEO Mindy Grossman participates in the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit at Union West on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
WW International CEO Mindy Grossman participates in the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit at Union West on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Sozzi: I'd like to get your thoughts on Medicare For All, it's a hot button topic, but if that does go into effect, how does that impact Susan G. Komen?

Schneider: Oh, it's a very complicated topic, as you can imagine. You know, we lobby regularly. We have a big fairly large policy shop, and we're always on the Hill trying to make sure that we can help establish and keep health care for women. So, you have to make sure that you're physically responsible and able to pay for it, because I do come from the for profit world before I went into the not for profit world, so I can understand, sort of, both sides. But, you know, I believe that there is an onus of responsibility of making sure that people who can get insurance, people can get care. Because, you know, we see it all the time where people are under-insured, or have no insurance whatsoever.

And, you know, we're an organization that has a little bit of heft, but we certainly don't have the ability to take care of all the people out there that need help when they get a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Sozzi: How about you at WW Mindy?

Grossman: So I think, you know, what we all want is to give people the tools, so they can have access to support them if they're in need. You know, what we're really trying to do, also, on our Health Solutions business is really make sure... we're the number one physician recommended program for weight loss, and we need to embed that even further.


Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-anchor of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @BrianSozzi

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