Q&A with Nutrisystem CEO Dawn M. Zier

Posted: December 31, 2013

When Dawn M. Zier arrived at Nutrisystem Inc. as its new chief executive last year, she came with decades of executive-level experience in direct-to-consumer marketing, which is how the Fort Washington diet company sells most of its products.

But Zier had another qualification, unmatched by any previous CEO of Nutrisystem. Then 47, she precisely matched the company's target customer - a woman in her 40s struggling to lose 40 pounds.

Conversely, Nutrisystem, looking gaunt, desperately needed to fatten up. With 2012 revenue at $396.9 million, down from $776.7 million in 2007, its shares were trading at $7.23, a tenth of what they commanded in 2007. Nutrisystem lost $2.8 million in its last fiscal year.

Question: Do you think your special qualification matters on Wall Street?

Answer: I don't tend to talk about being a female CEO because I don't think it's relevant in the investor world, but in terms of understanding the customer, it's very relevant.

Q: How so?

A: I have a deeper understanding for how people, largely women, struggle with weight and how it's an emotional issue, a nutritional issue, and a physical issue. It all has to come together in the [diet] experience. I'm very empathetic toward that because as a female, I've also struggled with that.

Q: Shares have gone up - with Nutrisystem now trading in the upper teens. Your weight is down. By how much?

A: Over the last 18 months, I lost 30 pounds.

Q: Using Nutrisystem?

A: I've tried Weight Watchers. I've tried Jenny Craig. I've tried Nutrisystem. I've tried them all. Obviously, I recommend Nutrisystem.

Q: Any New Year's resolutions?

A: I would like to lose 10 pounds.

Q: How about the company's weight problem?

A: When I came in November 2012, the company had been suffering revenue declines for the last five years. I'm a big believer that it's easy to drive revenue, but you have to make sure it's profit-generating revenue. One of my first focuses was to get the margins back in place.

Q: Did you immediately try to change the product in time for the all-important New Year's diet resolution first-quarter?

A: I came in November, so I had no ability to impact diet season. So this is my first diet season, which we are very excited about.

Q: You came to Nutrisystem after 20 years at Reader's Digest. Publishing? Diets? What's the link?

A: Reader's Digest was a great training ground for direct marketers - database marketing. That's so important to Nutrisystem.

Q: How so?

A: When we look at the diet for diet season 2014, it's really about Nutrisystem My Way, a more personalized and customized weight-loss experience. To build on that, we need to do more in the area of database marketing.

Q: What motivated your weight loss?

A: I think my wake-up moment was seeing a photo of myself. I decided enough was enough - if this was a business problem, I would solve it.

Q: What's your nemesis?

A: Ice cream.

Q: How do you cope?

A: There are [Nutrisystem] ice cream sandwiches, which really help me. Ice cream sandwiches are 150 calories instead of an ice cream sundae, which is about 1,000 calories.


NUTRISYSTEM

Headquarters: Fort Washington.

Business: Weight loss.

Ticker: NTRI.

Friday's close: $16.48, down 2.6%.

2012 Revenue:

$396.9 million.

2012 Net Income:

-$2.8 million.

Employees: 440.


MORE ONLINE

Dawn M. Zier on the value of her MIT engineering degree. www.inquirer.com/jobbing


DAWN M. ZIER

Title: Chief executive, president, Nutrisystem Inc.

Hometown: Hopewell Junction, N.Y.

Weekdays: Willow Grove.

Family: Husband, Steven; children, Kyle, 18; Kirsten, 15.

Diplomas: State University of New York, electrical engineering and computer science; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, master's degrees in electrical engineering, computer science, and business administration.

Resumé: Reader's Digest Association, last heading its international division.

On the side: Bakes 12 kinds of Christmas cookies. Best cookie: Peanut butter blossom.


jvonbergen@phillynews.com

215-854-2769

@JaneVonBergen

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