Women Of The C-Suite Executive: “Humanize the whole journey” With Katie Doyle CEO of Swanson Health

Set clear goals and priorities and empower your teams to drive them through. Support, encourage, be a thought partner but don’t take over…

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Set clear goals and priorities and empower your teams to drive them through. Support, encourage, be a thought partner but don’t take over all initiatives yourself. Celebrate every little success. Be accessible and approachable to help. Remember everyone’s a person with real struggles and a need to succeed — humanize the whole journey.

I had the pleasure to interview Katie Doyle, the Chief Executive Officer of Swanson Health. Prior to joining Swanson, she was a Senior Vice President at Abbott Laboratories, where she led the nutrition business across the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. In this role, she was responsible for $3.2 billion in revenue across a portfolio of brands in the pediatric and adult nutrition space as well as sports nutrition and healthy snacking. Before that, Ms. Doyle was a senior partner at McKinsey & Company, where she worked with leading consumer companies across the U.S., Europe, Africa and Asia.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I would describe my career path as being an entrepreneur in the consumer health space. I realized the thrill of being an entrepreneur when I became part of a small team at McKinsey that opened our practice in South Africa soon after the end of Apartheid. I was jumped into a number of ‘battlefield’ promotions and realized how much I enjoyed creating and shaping opportunities in fast paced and ambiguous environments. That professional chapter also taught me how important it is to me to do work that is meaningful (i.e. advancing post-apartheid businesses and empowerment) and to genuinely care about my teammates. When I returned to the US, I tried to focus my career path on those three dimensions — entrepreneurial endevours with a great, vested team working together to improve the world. After many career chapters, I have landed as the CEO of Swanson Health Products where I have all three characteristics in spades — a fast-paced, entrepreneurial ecommerce brand focused on improving people’s lives through healthy living products and education with a team that means the world to me.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The first time I flew to Fargo to meet with executives, I arrived dressed in ‘business casual,’ ready for a new challenge.

The Chief Information Officer drove up in a mud-covered pick-up truck, wearing camouflage hunting gear. Over lunch, he told me there were only three questions that really mattered to him. My answers, he said, would determine whether I have the leadership chops for this job.

“Do you have a dog?” he said with authority.

“No, but we’d love one…” I said

“Mmm, half point”, he replied

Can you fire a gun?

“No, not even a little bit”

“Zero points”

Do you drink beer?

“Yes…” I said hesitantly — so, he asked a follow-up question.

“When and where do you drink beer?”

“At Cubs games”

At which point he slapped my back and exclaimed “Sold! I’m a lifelong Cubs fan! I’ll follow you anywhere.”

My lesson from this story is that people value authenticity and want to follow a leader they believe is a good person and one they can relate to.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Soon after I started at Swanson, I met the founder for dinner and I was looking forward to uncovering the secrets behind his tremendous success. After a long dinner of patiently listening to my questions, he summed it all up by saying the success of Swanson is based on four principles.

1. Make high quality products that help people live and feel healthier

2. Make them affordable for most people

3. Treat the customer really well

4. Hire nice people

The simplicity of this formula is what was funny to me. I guess I was expecting a complicated algorithm and technology platform powering the ecommerce business but it turns out these core beliefs really are our formula for growth, innovation and engagement.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Swanson started in 1969 in Fargo as a pioneer in healthy living products through a direct-to-consumer business model.

What Swanson stand out is our big, valuable, loyal and growing customer base. Our customers love our products, respect our high quality, appreciate our customer service and rely on us to help them live their healthiest life. We consistently win awards for our customer service and our product innovations but I am most proud of our Net Promoter Score of 87 — that’s the highest I’ve ever seen. This level of brand affinity is reflected in our customer retention and longevity. Over 75% of our core customers have been with us over 10 years! That’s not easy in an ecommerce model.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Of course! Swanson is all about innovation and continuous improvement so we always have exciting new projects going on at all times.

One that I’m particularly excited about is our Real Foods Proteins launch. More than ever, customers are focused on clean simple, high-quality and great-tasting products they can feel good about buying.

We’ve focused on ensuring our new whey and plant-based proteins not only taste good but don’t contain any artificial or unnecessary ingredients, like fillers, preservatives or added sugars. Their simple, whole-food ingredients, give customers exactly what they want and nothing they don’t in a protein powder to help fuel their modern life and wellness goals.

In addition, we’re working on ways to personalize each supplement to each and every customer. We want to ensure we deliver the easiest and best way to get exactly what they need for the healthiest life they can lead.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Set clear goals and priorities and empower your teams to drive them through. Support, encourage, be a thought partner but don’t take over all initiatives yourself. Celebrate every little success. Be accessible and approachable to help. Remember everyone’s a person with real struggles and a need to succeed — humanize the whole journey.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Set ambitious goals, clarify priorities, measure key metrics religiously and communicate directly to all levels of the organization.

None of us have been able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many but I would single out my father. He showed me how to love unconditionally and tremendously, yet challenge and inspire someone to achieve ‘more’. He is a risk taker — always asking me “Why not?” or “What’s the worst that can happen, really?”. He gave me the courage to take every leap and to get up again after each fall and set an even bigger goal for myself.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I believe I have made a difference in the lives of the teammates I’ve had the honor to work with over the years.

I know I have made a difference in the health of our customers.

I have worked to inspire women of all ages to lead in the fields they are passionate about.

All of this, I hope, will be dwarfed by goodness my three amazing children will bring to this world.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Experience” and why.

1. Build a diverse, capable team that cares about each other and their shared success

2. Set aggressive goals and build lots of contingency plans to deliver

3. Be true to yourself and your own style while continuously listening for feedback

4. Build a wide and diverse network of role models, mentors and supporters to help you along the journey

5. There is no such thing as “work/life balance”, there’s just life so make sure your work and your colleagues really matter to you

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Economic empowerment for all women around the world. I think the world would be a more peaceful, just, inclusive, kind, sustainable and interesting place to thrive.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have always been a dreamer. People must be courageous enough to pursue their dreams.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can find health and wellness tips from our experts, new product details and more by following @swansonhealth on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest or on LinkedIn at Swanson Health.

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