On October 12, 1492, a man discovered America. On October 12, 1923, America discovered a lady who was born to discover Weight Watchers. He was Christopher Columbus. She was Jean Nidetch. He took the mystery out of the world. She took the L out of ‘Flab.’ We all know his story. Here is hers.*
Taking the L out of Flab
For such a little lady Nidetch has a big personality—but she wasn’t always little.
Nidetch, in her new book The Jean Nidetch Story, writes about her own weight loss journey through 72 pounds, and what spawned Weight Watchers International. She grew up near Coney Island where she took shelter from the Summer heat at the local Candy Shop indulging in “egg cream” drinks containing neither eggs nor cream but chocolate syrup, homogenized milk, and seltzer.
Nidetech’s father prided himself on his ability to feed his wife (a manicurist) and children keeping them plump through the Great Depression. He drove a cab in addition to being one of the first food delivery entrepreneurs. He painted a truck and drove sandwiches and ice cream to workers and playing children.
A family of resourceful entrepreneurs Nidetch’s grandfather came from a poor town in Russia and came to the U.S. for a better life. He worked a market in Williamsburg, Brooklyn selling pickles, herring, and sauerkraut out of a pushcart. This was before Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia outloawed pushcarts in the ‘30s.
Never Ask A Woman If She Is Pregnant If You Aren’t Sure
Nidetch was a fat kid and even fatter adult. But she decided to change her habits after a woman in the grocery store asked Nidetch if she was due any day.
With the help of a very old school New York City Board of Health Obesity Clinic Nidetch lost the weight. Nidetch wasn’t the only one who had a weak spot for egg cream and other obese neighbors started to wonder what Nidetch had done to lose all of her weight. A natural organizer, Nidetch invited a few girls over every week to help them with their food regimen and create a supportive environment. Word got out that Nidetch had the weight loss secret sauce and soon enough neighbors started knocking on her door.
From Nidetch’s basement she got a few helpers, borrowed a mimeograph machine (Xeroxes didn’t exist) and got some of her girlfriends type the food regimen on a stencil (in addition to the meetings and weigh ins). Turns out the secret was the support group as well.
Nidetch’s story started out like many others—a few people getting organized weekly turned into a global multi-million dollar operation.
F.F.H. AKA Formerly Fat Housewife
Nidetch was the face of the business, and the mind behind the idea, never saw herself as a “businesswoman” per say. But Nidetch understood her customer and only hired people who had been through the program and remembered what it felt like to be fat.
When Nidetch sat on a panel in the 1970’s with PhDs, M.D.s, M.S.N.s, R.D.s, she made gave herself a title F.F.H. (formerly fat housewife). She is her customer’s champion. There is something refreshing about the honesty of this self-proclaimed everywoman.
“Is Jean Nidetch Still Alive?” “Oh My God I Hope So!”
Nidetch, a happy Floridian living in a retirement community, recently phoned the Weight Watchers call center. She was greeted by a cheerful agent.
Agent: “Good morning, Weight Watchers, how may I help you?.”
Nidetech: “Do you know who founded Weight Watchers International.”
Agent: “You mean you don’t know?”
Agent: “Jean Nidetch!”
Nidetech: “Is she still alive?”
Agent: “Oh my God I hope so!”
*This was the introduction for a televised appearance for Jean Nidetch, former CEO and President of Weight Watchers International, who was born on Columbus Day.
Note from blogger: I wrote this for my previous blog at Customer Management IQ.