As we approach the two-year mark in Bill Ackman's crusade to bring down nutritional products maker Herbalife, the activist investor has given the market quite the anniversary present.
Herbalife uses a direct sales method involving thousands of distributors to sell its nutritional drinks to their friends, families and neighbors. But Ackman insists the whole thing is a classic pyramid scheme, with distributors relying less on selling product and more on the money they make convincing new people to join the multi-level sales system.
Early Wednesday, Ackman's hedge fund released a three-hour video of an alleged Herbalife distributors meeting from 2005, the year after the company went public. The video shows senior distributor Stephan Gratziani, now in an even higher level position at the company, spilling some troubling insights and opinions on Herbalife's business model.
Here are a few choice comments, presented as a case study in what not to say on camera about what it's like to work at your publicly traded employer.
1. "We sell people on a dream business that they can make it, yet deep down inside, what do we really know? Yeah, we know that the reality is most of them aren’t going to make it."
2. "Who wants to bring their family into a struggle to make it, into an eventual deception?"
3. "We tell people, hey, you know, sign on the dotted line, start working from home it’s gonna be unbelievable you’re gonna have this incredible life, yeah maybe, maybe, there really is this situation or this level of inauthenticity that’s there."
4. "We know that literally we lose a very large percentage of our supervisors every single year, we know that we lost basically 9 out of 10 people."
5. "Some of us got so good at faking it we forgot to make it."
6. "Successful people in retailing in our business, it's a very small percentage. The majority of our people have a difficulty in selling products, in general."
7. "How many of you have had people that joined your business that were close to you—family or friends or something like that and, you know, you almost wished for a quick death for them in the business?"
8. "It’s almost a painful experience to see all of the good people that I’ve lost over the years that have invested literally years of their lives into a business and then they left. They got to a point where, you know what it wasn’t working."
9. "Seventy percent of my Supervisors are doing nothing. Yeah. So it's a lot of Supervisors that came, that purchased to become Supervisors, but finally they end up not doing anything, so they're in and they're out."
10. "We don't listen to them [the customers]."
11. "They don't get the results they're looking for."
12. "They're confused."
13. "We give them unrealistic expectations."
Alan Hoffman, executive VP of Global Corporate Affairs at Herbalife dismissed the video's release as a stunt by Pershing Square.
"Each quarter Bill Ackman pulls some stunt to help out his bet and drive down the stock price all to benefit his billion dollar portfolio," Hoffman said. "All companies evolve and selectively picking out a few anecdotes that are close to a decade old does not accurately reflect the current activities of the millions of members and customers who use our products on a daily basis."
Mariah Summers is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Summers reports on hospitality, travel and real estate.
Contact Mariah Summers at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.