Weight Watchers CEO Goes, Oprah to Aid Search for Replacement

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When Oprah Winfrey acquired 10% of the outstanding shares of Weight Watchers International Inc. (NYSE: WTW) a year ago, she also received a seat on the company’s board of directors and followed its weight-loss program. Weight Watchers shares doubled instantly and reached a peak of around $28 a share before sinking back to around $10.

Now Winfrey is a member of a board committee that will search for new CEO following the resignation of James Chambers announced Monday afternoon. According to a report from Reuters, Chambers and the Weight Watchers board reached a “joint decision” that Chambers should depart.

In a statement, Chambers said:

I am proud of the team’s accomplishments in returning the Company to growth through the successful launch of Beyond the Scale and our long-term partnership with Oprah Winfrey. I am confident that Weight Watchers has the right strategies to play a major role in helping to inspire and guide the healthier choices that transform people’s lives.

Competition from natural foods sellers has been chipping away at Weight Watchers’ sales for some time now as consumers’ preferences are changing, and moving away from diet programs to what consumers believe are more healthful eating patterns.

Weight Watchers chairman Ray Debbane thanked Chambers and noted that the company’s most famous board member would be selecting the next chief executive:

The Board has established a search committee. Board members, including Oprah Winfrey and myself, will be actively involved in the search for a new CEO, and look forward to working with her or him in shaping the future of Weight Watchers.

Until a permanent CEO is appointed, Weight Watchers will be run by a three-person Office of the CEO, including Chief Financial Officer Nicholas Hotchkin, director Thilo Semmelbauer and director Christopher Sobecki. Semmelbauer is a former Chief Operating Officer at the company and was just appointed to the board of directors.

Shares traded down more than 7% midday Tuesday, at $9.60 in a 52-week range of $5.70 to $28.05. The consensus 12-month price target on the stock is $23.33.