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Weight Watchers had an image problem. Then Oprah Winfrey fixed it—and made a ton of money in the process.
The media mogul and former queen of daytime TV hopped aboard Weight Watchers in 2015, buying a 10% stake in the diet company, with the option to acquire more down the road, as well as taking a seat on its board.
Hard times at Weight Watchers
Two and a half years ago, Weight Watchers was in a funk. It had seen its revenue and membership numbers fall. The company decided to pivot away from strictly focusing on dieting to embracing a more holistic, lifestyle-oriented program. Winfrey, who also became an advisor for Weight Watchers, began appearing in its TV ads and generally acted as a spokesperson for the brand.
“I love bread,” Winfrey said in one especially memorable spot, touting the fact that she lost 26 pounds using Weight Watchers while still eating bread every day (but managing her consumption).
Weight Watchers’ comeback—and Winfrey’s $400 million win
The gains from Winfrey’s platform at Weight Watchers have been astronomic. The number of members shot up about 29% this year, from 3.6 million people the year before to a record 4.6 million.
Weight Watchers announced continued improvement in earnings and sales last Thursday, causing the stock to surge 5% at the end of last week.
Part of the company’s tweaks to its formula involves a shift away from obsessing over points, which are famously used in Weight Watchers to rate foods on their leanness and healthfulness, towards more accessible practices. CEO Mindy Grossman, who started last year and came from the retailer HSN, is trying to expand Weight Watchers’ messaging. She told analysts on a conference call in February that "healthy is the new skinny.” After Thursday’s earnings report, Grossman said, "Our purpose is to inspire healthy habits for real life for people, families, communities, the world.”
Whatever Weight Watchers is doing, it’s working out fabulously for Winfrey. She bought her stake in Weight Watchers for $43.5 million back in October 2015, and that investment is now worth more than $400 million. The stock has increased 70% just this year, and recently traded around $75 per share, while it was worth less than $7 when Winfrey picked it up.
Along the way, Winfrey has cashed in on some of her investment. The billionaire unloaded two million shares of the company earlier this year and took home $110 million as a result. She also donated 361,000 shares to her charitable foundation, which sold them for $22.6 million. But she’s not looking to sell the rest of her shares at the moment.
“I am deeply committed to Weight Watchers and continue to see a bright future for the company,” she said in a statement in March when she sold the shares.