Hanneke Willenborg is the chief executive offer of Olly, a direct-to-consumer vitamins and supplements brand owned by Unilever, which reportedly surpassed $100 million in annual revenue in 2018. Willenborg officially stepped into the role in July 2021, bringing almost 30 years of brand development experience in the lifestyle and wellness space. Here, she speaks with Inside Retail about her passion for mental health and well-being, how she balances a hectic work schedule, and her passion fo
sion for helping others. Inside Retail: Can you tell us about your career journey? How did you get into the retail industry, and what are some of the different roles you’ve held along the way? Hanneke Willenborg: I started my career in the Unilever family working across various consumer products and brands, so I jumped into the retail space from the start. My roles were based in a diverse range of cities across the world, from Europe to Burlington, Vermont, and now San Francisco. Before joining Olly, I spent time at other mission-driven B Corps including Ben & Jerry’s and Seventh Generation, where I was the chief marketing officer. Each of my roles allowed me the opportunity to learn and grow before I took on my first CEO role with Olly. IR: Can you discuss how your previous experience has shaped your leadership and management style? HW: One of my biggest goals as CEO is to foster a culture of openness around mental health, where everyone can feel like they can show up as their real selves. Working at other mission-driven companies and B Corps, along with my personal passion for the topic, has granted me the experience to push the boundaries when it comes to supporting and destigmatising these important conversations. Today, my leadership style is to lead with an open heart and calm mind, the more that others can see us leading with empathy and showing up as our authentic selves, the more it will encourage them to do so as well, and we’ll all benefit from the community of real empathy and support. IR: Are there any particularly proud moments of your career that jump to mind? HW: This past year, Olly pledged $1.5 million to support three key areas of our mental health mission. First, improving access to culture- and identify-affirming care through partnerships with the Loveland Foundation and Seek Her. Second, enabling access to mental health care, including driving technology advances through partnership with Project Healthy Minds. And lastly, building a workplace that radically prioritises mental health and sets an example for other companies through partnerships with NAMI and Mind Share Partners. What we have learned is that tangible action can only happen once a company gets real about mental health in the workplace, as nowhere is stigma more acute. Taking on mental health is a fundamental aspect of our commitment to whole-body healthcare and I’m extremely proud of the commitment and work we’re doing at Olly to get there. IR: What are your top priorities/areas of focus for the brand over the next 12 months? HW: We have a lot planned, both from growing our social mission to bringing incredible new innovations to our audiences. Innovation is at the core of Olly, so we’re eager to focus on expanding the category in unexpected and meaningful ways, always to create delightful products that really work. IR: What does a typical day look like for you? HW: My favorite day of the week is Tuesday when the whole Olly team gets together at our office in San Francisco, we call it Camp Olly. Having in-person time weekly allows us to collaborate, chat over coffee, eat lunch next to each other, and maintain our Olly culture. I make it a point every Tuesday morning to set aside an hour for a casual and open time for anyone to chat with me in person. I get to hear about my team’s weekends, projects they need help with, answer questions, anything. Building meaningful connections is very important to me and it’s something I prioritise every week. IR: What’s your approach to work/life balance? HW: Work-life balance is incredibly important to us at Olly, which is why my second favorite day is our monthly “Mental Health Fridays” — a day off work for the entire company each month. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the substantial positive influence this guilt-free time has had, both on our team and my personal mental well-being. IR: What do you love most about working in the retail industry? HW: Hearing from customers is always a highlight. They tell us firsthand how Olly has brought delight and real benefits to the vitamin aisle in retail stores. Whether someone grabs a bottle of Olly Sleep off the shelf to get a better night’s rest, or Olly’s Lovin Libido to support their sex lives, Olly has an impact on millions of people – which is the favorite part of my job.