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April 26 2018

Lisa Gable

by Charlotte Hays

When corporate leaders in the food and beverage industry decided to join the fight against obesity, especially among children, they turned to Lisa Gable.

A veteran of both the corporate and government worlds, with the rank of U.S. Ambassador, Gable was tapped in 2009 to launch the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation on behalf of a consortium of 16 leading food and beverage manufacturers and distributors. PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi served as chairman. Kellogg, General Mills, Kraft, Coca-Cola and Nestle were among the member companies, all industry heavy hitters.

An underlying principle was that companies know better than government how to make their products healthier, and at the same time still appealing to the consumer. HWCF's goal is to help companies fight obesity voluntarily. HWCF also promotes healthy habits through a program called Together Counts (TM) and teamed with Discovery Education to develop a wellness curriculum program for pre-K through fifth grade. HWCF provided grants to Title 1 schools to help them promote healthy habits. In the beginning, there was skepticism that businesses, without the heavy hand of regulation, would really change their products. A CBS News report on HWCF summed this up, suggesting that member companies "are not going to push for initiatives that hurt their profits." That, in a nutshell, was the us-against-them  mentality that prevailed before HWCF—and Lisa Gable--got into the picture.  

"I like complex challenges and I believe that the market is best-equipped to provide solutions," says Gable. Often guidelines designed by people who know nothing about business not only damage a company's ability to remain profitable but also lead to products that are--literally--unpalatable. Low-calorie products that taste like sawdust might make regulation-minded people happy, but they do not help regular people make healthier decisions about what to eat.

"We kept pushing back and saying that the government couldn't regulate how much of what nutrients were put into these products because we'd end up with people turning to substitutions that could be just higher in calories or have less of a positive impact than -what we would be removing. In fact, in some cases, changes would have an unintended consequence of putting the product at odds with another government regulation. When I started the job, there were about ten things that the - public health community wanted companies across the board to change. The problem was that you could make these changes in some products but not in others. There was no common denominator. "

That was the challenge: what was the common denominator in all food products? What, for example, was the common denominator that applied to the products of both Coca Cola and the Campbell Soup Company, another HWCF company? "We met for two days," Gable recalls, "wrestling with what was the common denominator of all these products of 16 varied companies, from Pepsi to Bumble Bee Foods to Smuckers, and so on. Then somebody from the public health community said, 'Everything has calories. So making the common denominator calories and then making a commitment around calories would mean that every company could make reductions in calorie content within their product lines. This in turn would reduce sugars and fats.'"

HWCF member corporations agreed in 2010 that they would voluntarily cut the calorie content in the marketplace by 1.5 trillion by 2015. That's a lot of calories, but the goal was met three years ahead of schedule. HWCF called in the respected researchers at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to independently verify their result. The Partnership for a Healthier America, independent but established in conjunction with former First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move endeavor, was impressed. When the Robert Wood Johnson report came out, PHA CEO Lawrence A. Soler said, "This news is incredibly promising and a testament to the good work the private sector can do to make healthier choices easier for busy parents and families."

HWCF puts the current reduction in calories in the products of members at 6.4 trillion calories over a five year period. HWCF companies have done this by making marketplace changes, reducing the calorie content of existing recipes and adding new products with lower calorie counts.

"We really did revolutionize the food supply by creating competition over lower calorie products," says Gable, citing as an example an emerging product Halo Top, the popular low-calorie ice cream, which was named as one of the "25 Best Inventions of 2017" by Time magazine. "We created a market place dynamic where the consumer is happy with the product and it is produced at a cost that the company can bear and sold at prices the consumer likes, too. "

"We really did revolutionize the food supply by creating competition over lower calorie products," says Gable, citing as an example an emerging product Halo Top, the popular low-calorie ice cream, which was named as one of the "25 Best Inventions of 2017" by Time magazine. "We created a market place dynamic where the consumer is happy with the product and it is produced at a cost that the company can bear and sold at prices the consumer likes, too. "

In order for healthier products to succeed, they must meet three tests: taste, value, and convenience. Too often the activists calling for more regulations don't understand this. 

Companies forced to comply with unrealistic regulation can end up less profitable and, ironically, less able to invest in the research and development necessary to create new and healthy products that consumers will want to buy.

Companies forced to comply with unrealistic regulation can end up less profitable and, ironically, less able to invest in the research and development necessary to create new and healthy products that consumers will want to buy. 

Some food activists can't be satisfied no matter what and always insist upon further regulation. Others have a high level of sincerity and are part of that Gable calls the "movable middle." Gable advocates educating those in the movable middle. She has encouraged companies to bring activists into factories and show them what is required for a company to operate and develop new products. It is an expensive undertaking, requiring a commitment of time and other resources. Reasonable activists and influential academic thinkers, Gable says, have been persuaded that excessive regulations is not the best way to fight obesity.

A svelte, Jimmy Choo-shoed woman with a perfectly-coiffed blonde mane, Gable did not enter the obesity fight because of a personal struggle with weight. The impetus for Gable was her belief that the free-market can solve problems better than government regulations and provide more options to busy mothers and fathers.

A svelte, Jimmy Choo-shoed woman with a perfectly-coiffed blonde mane, Gable did not enter the obesity fight because of a personal struggle with weight. The impetus for Gable was her belief that the free-market can solve problems better than government regulations and provide more options to busy moms and dads. Gable is not one of those people who came to these values later in life, after an epiphany or transformational experience.

A 1982 Washington Post profile headlined "The Right Stuff" on conservative summer interns flocking to Washington in the wake of Ronald Reagan's election (the liberal newspaper almost seemed to regard them as an exotic species), quoted 18-year-old Lisa Guillermin, an intern for a Fairfax-based conservative think tank, saying, "This summer has definitely strengthened my own beliefs in conservative issues. I now understand what our country needs for national defense."

Gable, who grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia, is a graduate of the University of Virginia. While still an undergraduate, Lisa applied for a position in the Reagan Education Department that was reserved for a student. It was awarded to Gable through a competitive process.

Though her student job at DOE, Gable focused on an  issue that is still with us today, college -debt. She spoke to students about privatizing loans and the benefits of going through college without incurring serious debt. "No one ever made a rule that you have to get a liberal arts degree in four years," says Gable who put herself through school. "There are lots of ways to get where you want to go. You could go to school fewer hours a semester, work and get a degree in five years. As college expenses have gone up, we have also discouraged young people from considering an alternative path. "

While working as Deputy Associate Director, Office of Presidential Personnel in the White House, Gable attended graduate school at Georgetown University's National Security Studies program at night. She specialized in the study of dual use products in China--technologies that have military and civilian uses--and earned a master's degree. She became friends with Barbara Barrett, a businesswoman prominent in Republican politics who would go on to be appointed U.S. Ambassador to Finland by George W. Bush. Barrett often took Lisa out to eat, fearing that working by day and going to school by night, she might not be receiving proper meals. She also introduced Gable to her husband, Craig Barrett, later became CEO of Intel Corporation. He hired Gable to serve as his technical assistant and troubleshooter, giving her entry into the corporate world. She rose to be Global Brand Identity Manager for INTEL Corporation, as Intel was on the cusp of launching what would become one of the most dominant tech brands, the Intel Inside® program.

Gable has held important jobs in the private sector, including Senior Advisor and Senior Vice President of Global Public Policy, PepsiCo. At the age of thirty, Gable was appointed Vice Chair of the Defense Advisory Committee of the Services, serving as an advisor to the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chief of Staff. It was in the aftermath of the Tailhook sexual harassment scandal, and members of the board were "fighting wildly." Lisa insisted on calling in consultants from the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award, which promoted core principles in management.  This helped military personnel name and rank their grievances and reduced the tension.

In 2004 President George W. Bush appointed her U.S. Commissioner General to the 2005 World Exposition in Japan, a 100% privately funded effort. The job carried ambassadorial rank. Gable is chairman of the board of the Foundation of a Smoke Free World, which aims at reducing the number of people harmed by the use of tobacco products, another great health issue of our time. “As the board chair for the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World," Gable says, "I’m dedicated to promoting free markets that encourage and reward product innovation.  We know that accelerating cessation and safe harm reduction requires a comprehensive approach, and we see a competitive market as the most effective system to provide people with more options for improving their quality of life.”  

Gable lives in suburban Virginia with her husband Jim Gable, President, Bra-Ket Science (a quantum computing start-up) and their 11-year-old Border Collie mix Daisy. Their daughter attends Southern Methodist University in Dallas and is "a very strong proponent of the free-market." Jim and Lisa met at a house party in Lake Tahoe. The festivities consisted of formal events and activities followed by a Saturday night supper to which all were required to wear pajamas. Jim, then an Apple executive in charge of the Power PC launch, wore a White House bathrobe (not on sale as they are today but a gift from Gable's sister who worked in the Bush 41 White House). He had deep roots in the Republican Party--his father was chairman of the Republican Party in Jim's native state of Kentucky. Lisa and Jim were married in 1996, but organized as Lisa is, she forgot to coordinate one thing: invitations to the couple's good friends the McConnells. She invited Elaine Chao and he invited Mitch McConnell--so the McConnells sent two presents.

Throughout her career, Gable has believed that mentoring other women is important. "Mentoring is a passion of mine," Gable says. In 2013, the Wall Street Journal took note of how Gable had changed the professional trajectory of one young woman she had recently hired.

Throughout her career, Gable has believed that mentoring other women is important. "Mentoring is a passion of mine," Gable says. In 2013, the Wall Street Journal took note of how Gable had changed the professional trajectory of Becky Johnson, then 30. Gable had hired Johnson, a former Commerce Department staffer, as project coordinator at the then-fledgling HWCF.   

"I'd turn to her and say, 'Becky, what do you think?' And she'd be startled," Gable told the Wall Street Journal. Whenever Gable asked Johnson to run a meeting, Johnson was overly deferential and forestalled making decisions until Gable could make them.  "I needed her to learn how to speak up," Ms. Gable told the newspaper, "to embrace the fact that she was no longer just a participant. It was time to be a driver."

Gable signed Johnson up for coaching by executive coach Michelle Woodward, who helped her develop a less introverted style and to speak up instead of holding back. Woodward helped Johnson understand that taking the lead when she was standing in for Gable wasn't a form of disloyalty to a boss she admired. Johnson picked up some tips (point your toes towards the person to whom you are speaking; sit near the middle of a table rather than hiding in a corner). Becky's button-down shirts gave way to more stylish apparel and she began to make herself more of a presence in meetings. It didn't work out at all badly for Ms. Johnson, who is now executive director of HWCF.

 "Lisa sees helping other people succeed as a key quality every leader should possess," says Johnson. " She has an action plan for everything. She is a leader who will set goals, assemble the team and work with us to drive toward them together. She’s also the kind of boss who will sit down with you and ask what you want to do next and help you come up with a plan to get there. I’ve told her repeatedly, if I’m ever locked up, held for ransom or otherwise detained, she’s my first call and not just because hers is one of the only phone numbers  I’ve memorized. She will have a plan to get me out."

"I defy your algorithms, Silicon Valley," Gable wrote. "I eat at Cracker Barrel and I wear Jimmy Choo shoes. OK, not simultaneously, but after a week of cocktail parties in D.C., killing my feet in 4-inch heels, nothing beats changing into tennis shoes and jeans to enjoy some Southern comfort: fried okra, cornbread, and the ambiance of normality where no one takes photos of their food."

 After the election of Donald Trump, which triggered unprecedented bitterness on the losing side, Gable took note of this and began to worry about the deep division in the country. She expressed this in a tongue and cheek column on Linkedin. "I defy your algorithms, Silicon Valley," she wrote. "I eat at Cracker Barrel and I wear Jimmy Choo shoes. OK, not simultaneously, but after a week of cocktail parties in D.C., killing my feet in 4-inch heels, nothing beats changing into tennis shoes and jeans to enjoy some Southern comfort: fried okra, cornbread, and the ambiance of normality where no one takes photos of their food."

Most people in conservative circles in Washington will easily recognize the Lisa of the 4-inch heels, but the Lisa of the down home restaurant chain may be a surprise. But nobody who knows Lisa is in the least bit surprised that, when HWCF said it would remove trillions of calories, Lisa would make it happen.

 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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