Harvard in Tech Spotlight: Nick Hotchkin, Chief Operating Officer at WW (formerly Weight Watchers)

Jess Li
Jess Li
Jul 16, 2021 · 4 min read

I spoke with Nick Hotchkin, Chief Operating Officer at WW (formerly Weight Watchers). WW is a direct to consumer digital subscription company powered by the world’s leading weight loss program and platform. Since its founding 58 years ago, WW has transitioned into a digital first company (WW has over 400 digital product specialists and software engineers across 4 global hubs!) but its mission remains the same: to inspire people to adopt healthy habits for real life. WW has built a digital wellness ecosystem that you can access in the palm of your hand, spanning categories from nutrition, activity, mindset and sleep. WW takes a 3 pronged approach to realizing their mission: 1) behavioral science around weight loss and healthy habit adoption, 2) communities both digital and in person, and 3) coaches to guide people along the healthy lifestyle journey .. WW has 5 million members.

Nick grew up in England and was recruited to play soccer at Harvard. Attending Harvard was Nick’s first experience in the US. After graduation, Nick worked in the automotive industry first at General Motors and later at Delphi in finance focused roles. He worked on joint venture financings, global expansion, and acquisitions for both companies. After 2 decades in the automotive industry, Nick wanted to explore a new industry, so he joined Staples. He found their analytical culture appealing and appreciated that the company valued the finance function. He became their corporate treasurer during the global financial crisis, and he then became CFO of their US retail business as the company was transitioning from office supplies to value added services.

After almost 6 years at Staples, Nick left to join WW, where he has been for the last 8 years, first as CFO and now as COO. He was drawn to WW’s smart yet humble team, the company’s purpose around truly making a difference in people’s lives, and the business model (he liked that they were focused on subscriptions, which was quite different from what he had focused on at Staples). As COO, he works closely with every part of the organization on execution and key growth initiatives from developing a new program for diabetes to international expansion.

Nick shared his perspective on lifelong learning, leadership, mental models and habits, his time at Harvard, and advice for his younger self.

On how he learns about new spaces: Nick shares the importance of having true intellectual curiosity. When hiring new talent, he always looks for this genuine passion for learning and has found the trait to be a key driver of performance and success. Intellectual curiosity led Nick himself to explore so many industries from automotives to office supplies to wellness and so many domains from finance to operations. In each new role he takes on, Nick embraces the student mentality. He tries to mimic the feeling one has when joining a company for the first time looking at things through a fresh lens. Rather than getting everything done in your first 100 days on the job, focus on listening and soaking things in. Be prepared to act decisively but take a thoughtful approach.

On the most surprising leadership lessons he’s learned: Nick shares that early on in his career, he took pride in doing a lot with a small staff and small budget. He had assumed that was all he could access and that he should do everything in as capital efficient a way as possible, but his mentor noted: it’s more important that these things are done well than done efficiently. Asking for more resources is leadership. Don’t be afraid to ask for support to augment your team, when you need it.

Throughout his career, Nick has enjoyed seeing his past team members find success within the organization and elsewhere. He loves being able to empower people and be a meaningful part of their career journeys, regardless of where they end up. Over time, he’s realized the key mentorship role leaders play.

On his favorite mental models and habits: Nick shares that he creates top 10 lists regularly to help guide himself in thinking through and clearly articulating where he can have the most impact and where he should spend his time from both a personal and professional standpoint. He writes these top 10 things down and looks at them regularly to ensure he’s allocating his time optimally.

Nick also shares that even the most seemingly insurmountable tasks can be broken up into smaller, manageable pieces. He loves taking an issue and encouraging people to break the challenge down into smaller bite sized pieces. Don’t worry too much about the whole project at the outset. Just dive into the first piece.

On his time at Harvard: Nick loved being at Harvard. He was initially drawn to the university because of the term his admissions officer shared: scholar athlete. He enjoyed being able to pursue and embody both parts of the term on the academics side and on the soccer field. He also met his wife while at school! When asked if he would do anything differently, Nick shares that he would have sought to truly master a language.

On his advice for his younger self: Nick would say: be patient. Everything takes time. Instead of hurrying to the outcome, enjoy what you’re doing and trust that your career will grow over time in the right way.

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