Mindy Grossman once shocked her parents by dropping out of college and moving to New York

Mindy Grossman

Olivia Michael | CNBC

Shortly before graduating from college, WW CEO Mindy Grossman changed the course of her entire life.

Grossman, who’s been ranked among Forbes’ 100 most powerful women in multiple years, was on a completely different trajectory as she neared her graduation from George Washington University in the mid-1970s.

From the time she was five years old, attending her own formal adoption proceedings, she had wanted to become a lawyer. At 14, she began dating the boy who would become her fiancé when she turned 19. So, as she neared the end of college in Washington, D.C., she was headed toward law school and marriage.

“I woke up one morning and had an epiphany, but I’m sure it wasn’t truly that one morning. It had been on my mind,” she told CNBC’s “The Brave Ones.”

“But that one morning I woke up and said, ‘I can’t do this. I have to change the course of my life. And if I don’t — and I continue down this path, it’s gonna be very hard to take it back later’. And with that, I called my parents and I said, ‘I have something to tell you. I’m breaking my engagement. I’m not getting married. And I’ve decided — I don’t want to go to law school in the fall, and I’m leaving school right now. I’m moving to New York City, and I’m going to figure it out.’ And there was silence on the other end of the phone.”

Her first apartment, a 300-square foot studio, cost $330 a month, and was a stretch during her first job in men’s fashion, which paid her a salary just north of $15,000 a year. Jobs with such eponymous names as Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren followed. And in 2000 she was hired by Nike to revive its apparel business.

“Now if you look at Nike, you look at how it’s grown and how it’s a leader in fashion. And that started a long time ago with Mindy,” says Serena Williams, who collaborated with Grossman at Nike and when she made her next, typically unpredictable, move to become CEO of IAC Retail, which was the home of the Home Shopping Network.

At HSN, she changed the culture behind the scenes and in front of the camera, bringing in celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez, Nicki Minaj, Martha Stewart. And in 2009, she took it public and became one of the only women to lead a Fortune 1000 company.

Since July 2017, she’s been CEO of WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers), where she is pushing the company beyond weight loss and concentrating on total wellness, along with Oprah Winfrey, who sits on WW’s board.

“I first heard that from Mindy Grossman … I love her, because she’s willing to take risks, and she’s willing to admit if those risks didn’t work out, and not to sit and sulk about it. Brood about it. Blame anybody else for it. Take full responsibility and say, ‘Now, here’s the way forward’,” Winfrey said.

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