Very rarely does the CEO of a company being acquired remain with the newly merged company for the long term, and even more rare is when the acquired CEO takes the reins of the new company. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker is one example, as he had been CEO of US Airways before American Airlines acquired that company. Asma Ishaq of Modere is another rare, but prime example.
Modere, the global personal care and health and wellness company, acquired Ishaq’s company of nutraceuticals in 2017 and appointed Ishaq as CEO less than a year later. Since then, Modere has increased revenue and EBITDA, and is more profitable than ever.
As the acquiring company, Modere recognized an exceptionally valuable talent in Ishaq. They found a leader with a clear vision for ample growth and a rare combination of significant experience in product development and business management who exercises best practices based on “common sense” rules of ethics and a ‘founder’s mentality’.
“Common sense dictates that acting with integrity at all times is not only the right thing to do, but the only way to succeed,” says Ishaq. With that dictate in mind, Ishaq believes the strength of her company’s success derives from a consistent focus on delivering high-value, safe and healthy products to its consumers while respecting the work and views of everyone involved in bringing the company’s products to market.
To ensure that Modere delivers on its value proposition to its consumers and independent salesforce, Ishaq begins by making sure the company is “perfect operationally”. From sourcing to manufacturing and distribution, she has played a leading role in setting industry standards. For example, the company’s dietary supplement and skincare products are scientifically substantiated and made of clean, high quality ingredients. Asma also sits on multiple advisory boards in the nutrition, fragrance, and direct selling industries to advocate for high ethical business practices and to ensure that her company is best in class in regulatory compliance programs and engaged in the development of policies that are good for people, business, and the planet. “I believe it is a company’s responsibility to be well-informed and to contribute to its industry by having a hand in setting standards and influencing policy. Like others have said before me, if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu,” Asma explained.
On the personal side of running a business, Ishaq says, “While interning during my early days at Berkeley, I clearly remember the moment I learned about the concept of a ‘servant leader’- the idea that your success is directly connected to the success of those around you. It’s not just all about the people, it’s about serving the people.” Ishaq is known to treat everyone equally, no matter their role in the company, and utilizes a “360-degree values system” which demonstrates the old Zen adage that the way you do one thing is how you do everything. She expands upon the concept, adding, “The way you treat any one person is ultimately how you treat everyone.” Commenting on her independent salesforce, Ishaq says, “Our success is credited to our field. Our people are extraordinary and drive the sales of our products with passion, pride, and a special attention to creating value for the people they serve. I owe it to them and our team members to realize the future on which they rely.”
Long before 200 CEOs of the Business Roundtable redefined the purpose of a corporation to include commitments to all stakeholders in August 2019, Ishaq had advocated for corporations to consider the ‘triple bottom line’- that instead of one bottom line, there should be three: profit, people, and the planet- and has been applying that concept to her companies since the beginning of her career. As an example of its commitment to social responsibility, Modere has created several alliances with local and regional charities, as well as a years-long partnership with Vitamin Angels, a global non-profit that helps pregnant women, new mothers, and children under five gain access to essential vitamins and minerals. Vitamin Angels provided nutrition to more than 61 million people in 2017 alone.
As Ishaq’s executive role grew from being the co-founder, owner, and CEO of her former company to becoming CEO of Modere, a global company multiple-times larger, she committed to maintaining her initial ‘founder’s mentality’. “I establish our company’s strategic objectives and devote my time to high-level matters, but I’m just as obsessed about the little things,” she told me in a recent interview.
“As CEO, you are indeed responsible for delivering value to your shareholders and stakeholders as well as the overall performance of the company,” Ishaq said, “but as a founder, you remember what it was like when you answered your first phone call, made your first sale, or shipped your first box, and it motivates your behavior in a very different way. You have to be obsessed with those details, because once a company reaches a size of hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, the bureaucracy that follows can kill its spirit. The little things matter and usually make all the difference.”
She added, “Research shows that public companies gain three times more return on investment for shareholders whenever a founder is still involved with the company. Fortunately for CEOs who are not or have never been founders, a founder’s mentality is something they can learn and embody.”