Cheri Mullen, senior vice president and chief international officer at global health brand GNC, shares her life and business lessons.
GNC recently opened a new store in Blackrock that will be home to more than 140 brands, including a variety of Irish-made products.
Irish health brands including Fulfil Nutrition, Carraig Fhada Sea Vegetables, Ros Nutrition, Irish Botanica, and NUA Naturals are to be among the line-up in the first Irish store being opened in Blackrock by global health brand GNC.
“I am a strong believer that success doesn’t rest on a single individual; it comes from a team”
GNC’s own branded products will be available exclusively for purchase in store, including its range of vitamins, supplements, herbs, weight management, and sports nutrition products.
GNC, a trusted global retailer operating since 1935, provides high-quality, science-based products and solutions consumers need to Live Well. GNC currently operates in over 50 countries, with circa 4,000 stores globally.
Tell us about your background, what journey did you take to arrive at where you are?
My journey in the business world has been exciting, eventually leading me to my current role as Chief International Officer with GNC, the leading global health and wellness brand. With a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, and a subsequent Master’s degree in Business Administration, I’ve always had a passion for business. My horizons expanded further when I attended Cologne University in Germany during a summer abroad program, introducing me to diverse cultures and business practices – something I am grateful for in my current role.
“Businesses are fluid and dynamic, and my career at GNC has taught me to embrace this nature of the job”
As fate would have it, my professional career actually began at GNC, with an internship during my undergraduate years, which later turned into a full-time position after graduation. I first started in the General Nutrition Financial Service department, preparing financial statements for US franchisees. I transitioned to Corporate Accounting in 2005, overseeing both US and International franchise financial reporting. Over time, my role expanded to include financial reporting for GNC Rite Aid and Distribution and Transportation overhead.
Upon completing my Masters, I joined the International department as a Strategic Analyst, contributing to global expansion efforts. Today, I proudly lead the entire International Business department, excluding Canada, with responsibilities spanning International Operations, Merchandising, Marketing, Finance, Wholesale Sales, Product Development, and Business Development. I am very proud to have embarked on such a journey with GNC, starting from intern level to where I am now; it has been an incredible adventure.
Why are you doing what you are doing? What need are you meeting? What’s your USP?
On a personal level, GNC’s mission is one that I am aligned with and feel passionately about. At GNC we are committed to supplying our customers with the highest quality range of wellness and nutrition goods, allowing them to ‘Live Well’. I value health and fitness highly – both my husband and I are avid gym enthusiasts, and we enjoy staying active in our spare time. I have a particular interest in biking and skiing!
In regards to what my USP is, I would have to acknowledge how adaptable and well-rounded I am in the choices I’ve made and the opportunities that I have been afforded. My career path at GNC has allowed me to deepen my knowledge and skills across a variety of departments, and with each transition I am able to bring my expertise into the next chapter.
What (or whom) has helped you most along the way? Who was your greatest mentor/inspiration?
Throughout my career, every leader I’ve had the privilege to work with has played a significant role in my growth. I am a strong believer that success doesn’t rest on a single individual; it comes from a team. While I have perhaps learned more from some leaders than others, every interaction and relationship has contributed to my development, ultimately shaping me into the leader I am today.
What was the greatest piece of business advice you ever received?
Embrace change and never be complacent.
Businesses are fluid and dynamic, and my career at GNC has taught me to embrace this nature of the job. I have worked in many areas across the organisation; I have always seen this as an opportunity and not a challenge. While I may not have had a specific background or experience in some of the areas I oversee today, I constantly pushed myself to work with many of the cross-functional partners in those areas to learn and understand the business more thoroughly.
What circumstances/qualities/events can mark the difference between success or failure in life or business?
Simply put I believe it is the ability to work collaboratively within a team and be open to feedback. It is an essential skill to harbour in today’s workforce – the ability to not only lend advice and guidance to your colleagues, but also be receptive when on the receiving end.
What was the most challenging aspect of either starting or growing the business?
Being an international brand, it is always important to remember that there is not a one-size-fits all approach to the markets we operate in. At GNC that extends to our products, formulas, packaging, and marketing – with each market we are careful to adapt and curatebased on the unique needs of our customers in the region. With this in mind, some markets can prove more difficult than others, but it is a core focus at GNC to ensure our offering is one fit for purpose.
“Customers still like having a brick-and-mortar storefront and in-person customer service, but online shopping certainly has its merits. Covid-19 and its impact certainly taught us the importance of adaptability and innovation”
In the Irish market, where we recently opened up our first corporate store in the Frascati Centre located in Blackrock, Dublin, it was important for us to assemble our product offering to what is best suited to the needs of the community. As such we have a wide range available, including GNC-owned brand products but also a selection of Irish businesses, such as Fulfil Nutrition, Carraig Fhada Sea Vegetables, Ros Nutrition, Irish Botanica, and NUA Naturals.
How did you navigate your business through the pandemic and what lessons did you learn?
Of course Covid-19 created a challenging time for people all over the world, both on a personal and business level. At GNC the pandemic served as a catalyst for change, as we had to adapt and pivot during this unprecedented time. Most noticeably there was a shift away from brick-and-mortar stores towards e-commerce, a trend we were quick to partake in – we saw great growth there.
“I’m not sure I would change anything; I’ve had quite the journey and each experience has helped me grow both professionally and personally”
The effects of this still remain, but now it is a more omnichannel model – customers still like having a brick-and-mortar storefront and in-person customer service, but online shopping certainly has its merits. Covid-19 and its impact certainly taught us the importance of adaptability and innovation.
If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Speaking candidly, I’m not sure I would change anything; I’ve had quite the journey and each experience has helped me grow both professionally and personally.
Who inspires you in business today?
Kris Jenner – a household name! She has had momentous success in the entertainment and business world, which has only been complimented by her resilience and commitment to her family. She has been an advocate for female empowerment throughout her time in the spotlight; encouraging her daughters to pursue their passions and careers has sent a strong message to women and girls around the world, and is one that I wholeheartedly agree with.
What advice/guidance do you give new hires and how do you nurture talent in your organisation?
I am a big advocate for promoting internally, where feasible. It really has been my deep-rooted connection with this GNC, spending years growing and learning here, that has made my professional journey truly remarkable.
“AI is getting a lot of traction; I am really looking forward to seeing how it can transform the shopping experience. I think it is crucial for all businesses to continue to be mindful of our changing world, and the role technology is playing in this – and most importantly not to shy away from these exciting and innovative times”
Here’s my advice: if you enjoy what you’re doing, find opportunities to do more and strengthen your knowledge and expertise in other areas where possible. By establishing a strong reputation within your current organisation, it may become easier to grow professionally internally, as opposed to seeking opportunities elsewhere where they may only look at the lack of experience.
What business books do you read or would recommend?
There are a few classic business books I think everyone should read – two that I would highly recommend are “Good to Great” by James C. Collins and “Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars” by Patrick Lencioni.
What social media platforms do you prefer and why?
Instagram – a picture is worth a thousand words!
What are your thoughts on where technology overall is heading and how it will apply to business generally and your business particularly?
We have seen very obvious accelerated growth in eCommerce since the pandemic, which has been coupled by changing consumer habits and trends, such as focus on health and wellness. With e-commerce, the access to such goods is easier than ever, and this is not something I can imagine ceasing anytime soon.
Additionally, AI is getting a lot of traction; I am really looking forward to seeing how it can transform the shopping experience. I think it is crucial for all businesses to continue to be mindful of our changing world, and the role technology is playing in this – and most importantly not to shy away from these exciting and innovative times!
Finally, if you had advice for your 21-year-old self – knowing what you know now – what would it be?
I have two main pieces of advice for 21-year old me, but any young professional working in business:
- Be open to feedback from the start and check your emotions at the door; emotional intelligence is critical to success.
- Experience matters more than a degree – if you have a great work ethic and emotional intelligence, you will achieve success sooner than most.