Jean Nidetch (1923-)
Company: Weight Watchers
Size: $1 billion in revenues when sold to Heinz in 1978; 2012 revenues: $1.8 billion
She’s been voted one of the 100 most important women of the 20th century, but all Jean Nidetch wanted in 1961, as a 38-year-old wife and mother, was to finally find a way to lose weight – and keep it off. That’s how she stumbled onto the formula that two years later became Weight Watchers, Inc. After years of failed diets, she went to the New York Department of Health for help and was given a diet plan. But worried she might “cheat,” she enlisted several friends who similarly wanted to shed some pounds to join her. The group met weekly, talked about their successes and struggles, and measured their weight loss. Within a year, Nidetch lost 72 pounds (which she never regained). She wanted to share her success and in 1963, she opened her first Weight Watchers in Little Neck, New York; a year later, Nidetch began franchising the concept, so that by 1968, when the company went public, there were 91 franchises in 43 states. She stepped down as company spokesperson in 1984. As of 2013, the company estimated that more than one million people around the world attend a weekly Weight Watchers meeting.
“It's choice--not chance--that determines your destiny.”