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May 01, 2010

Exclusive Interviews

Executive Connection with Michael O. Johnson, Chairman, CEO, Herbalife

Michael JohnsonIn this month’s “Executive Connection,” Direct Selling News Publisher and Editor in Chief John Fleming speaks to Herbalife Chairman and CEO Michael O. Johnson about his vision, who he admires and much more.

DSN: What is the one thing you enjoy most about being the top executive of Herbalife?

MJ: Watching our distributors succeed and hearing their stories. We have so many examples of people completely changing their lives because of Herbalife. To see someone move from cleaning houses for a living to owning one of those houses—that’s incredibly rewarding, and we have thousands of those true stories.

DSN: What’s your proudest accomplishment?

MJ: My wife and I are proud that our children are kind, honest and hardworking.

DSN: What’s been the most fun part of the job?

MJ: Watching our company grow; being involved in creating high-quality product. And handing out bonus checks this year totaling $36.5 million to our distributors—that was fun! Our top check was for $2 million.

There are so many things at Herbalife that are fun. Also, I’ve always been an athlete and even was known as the “shake guy” at my former employer because I drank protein shakes. Now, my personal passions are fully integrated with my job. You won’t find coffee and donuts at a meeting around here; our employee mantra is the same as our distributors’: “Be a product of the products.” And our office gyms and pingpong tables are busy most of the time. The bike racks are well-used, too.

DSN: When you joined Herbalife in 2003, what surprised you the most about the company and the industry?

MJ: How little I knew. As an experienced consumer-marketing guy, I had to learn the importance of engaging your distributor leadership upfront in everything you do.

DSN: What is your vision for Herbalife?

: On my desk, I have a small plaque with the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “The first wealth is health.” In terms of health, half the world is dieting and half of it is starving—we can help with both. Tell me why a shake full of good proteins, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy carbs is called a “meal replacement,” and a burger, fries and soda is called a “meal.” The world is upside down about what qualifies as nutrition but becoming more educated over time. We want to be a leading nutrition company in the world, and there’s no reason why we can’t achieve that.

From our business opportunity side, we intend to be the most respected company in the direct selling industry. And that doesn’t happen from hype—it happens from right actions over the long haul.

DSN: Is there one basic principle that governs your leadership at Herbalife?

: Yes, and it’s in our vision, mission and values statements: Do the right, honest and ethical thing. Take the high road.

: Which other direct selling company or person do you admire the most and why?

MJ: Jim Rohn. He was a legend in the direct selling industry, and deservedly so. It was my good fortune to get to know and love Jim. We all miss him.

DSN: What do you see as our industry’s greatest challenge?

MJ: False claims that damage the reputation of direct selling. Get-rich-quick messaging and industry turnover-churn belie the true opportunity of direct selling. Like everything else, it takes hard work to succeed, but what other industry offers so much possibility and is open to absolutely anyone?

: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

: Hire people better and smarter than you.

: What do you like to do for fun?

MJ: Being with my family and friends somewhere in the mountains—bikes and-or skis included.