In a surprise move to many, Oprah Winfrey, Tennessee State University alum and second wealthiest HBCU graduate, purchased a 6.4 million shares of Weight Watchers International’s 57.3 million outstanding shares giving her an 11.2 percent stake in the company. She also has the option to purchase an additional 3.5 million shares, which would push her stake in the company to 17.3 percent. In either case the deal makes Ms. Winfrey the company’s second largest shareholder behind the Artal Group S.A., which itself is owned by Invus, an European shared family office representing a number of wealthy European families.
The deal also is going to feature Ms. Winfrey as the new face of Weight Watchers. A move to help the long embattled company turnaround is the hope of Ms. Winfrey’s midas touch, that itself has lost some of its luster the past few years. OWN, Ms. Winfrey’s network that she co-owns in a 50-50 venture with Discovery Communications, has struggled to truly gain traction and take off as many had hoped. However, we can certainly expect Weight Watchers to become featured product on the channel’s programming that targets women 25-54.
Will this deal pay off for Ms. Winfrey and her HARPO, Inc.? After the announcement of Oprah’s investment shares in the company doubled and risen almost 150 percent in a little over a week since the October 16th close. Despite this feverish rise short sellers in the company have increased their borrowing of shares by 25 percent. A sign that Ms. Winfrey’s presence is nothing more than temporary fix to a company that may be permanently broken. One of the key statistics to examine is Weight Watcher’s net income (profits) is down over almost 55 percent over the past three years. However, one must also assume that Ms. Winfrey and her team did their due diligence prior to such an investment and see some light at the end of the tunnel.
If the deal does fail, do not worry. The $43.2 million investment in Weight Watchers International is only 1.4 percent of Ms. Winfrey’s net worth, which currently stands at $3.1 billion.