Whittel became CEO about two years ago, during a turbulent time in Twinlab’s history. It’s a history replete with multiple risings-from-the-dead. Whittel replaced Tom Tolworthy, who had guided the financially strapped brand through a restructuring that sequestered some of the debt that was threatening the company’s continued existence.
Whittel is being replaced by an interim CEO, Al Gever, the current CFO/COO. Gever has been CFO for a little more than a year.
“We thank Naomi for her contributions to Twinlab and wish her well,” the company said in a statement.
Breathing innovation back into the brand
Twinlab, one of the longest running brands in the dietary supplement, has struggled through some very rough times. When Tolworthy took over Twinlab in 2011, the company was in a recovery mode from its bankruptcy filing in 2003. The creation of TCC in 2013 “Uncoupled Twinlab and recapitalized it within the new entity,” as Tolworthy put it at the time.
Tolworthy led a refocus of the company, and spearheaded the acquisition of Reserveage Organics by TCC in 2015. Whittel had founded the company and came on board in a management role. In March 2016, in a move that surprised many in the industry, the company’s board ousted Tolworthy and asked Whittel to take his place. Tolworthy had weeded out many of the company’s unprofitable SKUs but reportedly was unable to rein in costs and reinvigorate sales fast enough to satisfy the company’s creditors.
Whittel said she’s proud of what she was able to accomplish in her relatively short time at the helm. Tolworthy’s time had been spent primarily in cutting out dead wood; Whittel said her goal was to bring new growth back to the company and she believes she has done that.
“My dream and my goal was to breathe innovation back into the brand and to strengthen its foundation,” she said.
Using experts to drive innovation
To foster innovation, Whittel pursued a strategy of partnering with subject matter experts. Whittel pointed to the company’s recent turn out at the Natural Products Expo West trade show as an illustration of the strategy. The company launched major product lines in the cooperation with Dr Jeffrey Bland, a line of fish oil products called BioAlaskan Omega, and a couple of natural sleep aids launched with the help of Dr Michael Breus (aka The Sleep Doctor).
“BioAlaskan Omega is ground breaking in the world of fish oils,” Whittel said. The line is based on a flash freezing technology to harvest oil from fish parts as soon as they are processed in Dutch Harbor, AK.
The company also partnered with Brooke Alpert, RD, to launch some digestive aid fiber products under the Reserveage brand name. And it launched an amino acid-based product line called REAAL in cooperation with the inventor of the technology, Dr. Robert Wolfe.
Wolfe’s technology is said to be based on 40 years of research and 24 clinical trials, all demonstrating that the patented ratios of nine essential amino acids do the best job at supporting muscle protein synthesis.
“With those four product lines in place I believed I had met my goal of bringing science-based innovation and personality back to the product line,” Whittel said.
The market seems to have reacted positively to Whittel’s tenure. While the TCC stock price is off from its all time high of $1.54, reached in 2015, during Whittel’s stewardship it rose from a low of 17 cents a share in early 2016 to more than 80 cents a share today.
Promoting personal projects
Whittel said the unexpectedly vibrant success of her new book, called Glow15, helped make the decision to leave easier. The book has climbed onto some self-help bestseller lists. In writing the book, Whittel said she wanted to give readers access to the science surrounding a cell renewal process called autophagy.
In addition to promoting the sales of her book, Whittel said she is planning to release a nine-segment line of videos based on her message of the importance of healthy fats.
“The series is called ‘The Real Skinny on Fat’ and it will launch on June 13. I interviewed experts to look at why 60% of our population is either overweight or obese. We will look at what really went wrong,” Whittel said.
Whittel said the interviews include MDs and PhDs and experts on individual lipid ingredients, such as a segment talking to sciadonic acid expert Alvin Berger, PhD.