04/18/2014 08:10 am ET Updated Jun 18, 2014

Women in Business Q&A: Meg Sheetz, President and COO of Medifast

Margaret (Meg) Sheetz currently serves as President and COO of Medifast as well as CEO of Take Shape for Life, a division of Medifast - a position she has held since 2011. Prior to her role as CEO of Take Shape for Life, Ms. Sheetz served as Managing Director of the division beginning in 2008.

She currently sits on the Board of Directors for Stevenson University, the Greater Baltimore Committee, and Silaom and is a member of the Villanova President's Leadership Circle. Ms. Sheetz is also an active member of Vistage, an organization where top area business leaders meet regularly to discuss common challenges, garner peer advice and learn how to take smart risks to take their companies to the next level.

Additionally, Ms. Sheetz is the managing trustee for the MacDonald Family Foundation and the Take Shape for Life Foundation, which focuses on grants to support educational programs for disadvantaged students.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My father was an officer in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, and as a young child I was able to observe him and watch how he led thousands of Marines as a Battalion Commander. All through my life, I found that I naturally ended up leading people--whether it was a sports team, church group, or college activity. I also had the fortunate experience to work with my father (who spent his career in sales and marketing) and learn his leadership style for 12 years at Medifast before losing him to esophageal cancer. Watching someone you love go through that life-ending journey gives you a very different perspective on how you lead others, how you set expectations for yourself and those around you, as well as how you make decisions. It makes you stronger in so many ways.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position as the COO of Medifast?
One of my first jobs was working for a Christian youth organization where you worked 24/7 and had tremendous responsibility taking care of children for weeks at a time. I learned how to lead, organize, and get a group of teenagers to work collaboratively. It was long hours and dealt with all aspects of human behavior, which I find helps tremendously in leading the workforce we have today--from manufacturing employees to executives. One of my first professional jobs was working for someone who tended to yell, curse and negatively comment on people who worked for her. I learned quickly that if I wanted to get ahead, I had to treat people with respect and I had to make sure that I would never give a job to someone that I was not willing to do myself. And most importantly, it was not always about whether you liked someone or whether that person liked you; it mattered more that you gave honest feedback, held them accountable and treated them fairly.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I am not sure work/life balance is realistic when you are a top executive within an organization. There are business needs and requirements that have to be handled no matter the time of day; it is part of the job. What is possible is prioritizing your life so that you can put your family first as often as possible. I have an amazingly supportive husband who works full time as well, but he is very organized and great with our kids. It makes traveling and being away from home less impactful on our children. We have lots of help so that when I am home, my kids are my number one priority and where I spend my time. Technology is also a game changer because it allows me to stay more physically connected to my husband and kids. I can use FaceTime and send videos so we are constantly in contact.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Medifast?
The highlight for me was being part of the amazing growth story of Medifast. Since 2000, we have grown from $1.2M in revenue to over $350M today. We have gone from 15 employees to over 900 and have expanded from one facility to six. I had the opportunity to plan that growth and successfully keep up with demand when it came to manufacturing, distribution, technology and personnel. The most challenging aspect of my career was the death of my father, who was the re-founder of Medifast. He was the founding spirit of the culture we have today. Learning how to move the business forward--and helping the employees adjust to this drastic change--was a huge challenge.

What advice can you offer women seeking a career in the weight loss industry?
The weight-loss industry is a perfect industry for women. Over the course of life, your body changes and weight becomes an issue for almost everyone. When I first started working at Medifast, I was athletic and in great shape. A marriage, a busy work life, and two kids later, life takes its course and your body changes drastically. I am able to have an impact in this industry because I personally need the tools to stay at a healthy weight, and I can draw from my personal experience, as can other women.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think there are two big things that women often deal with in the workplace. Sometimes women can feel tremendous guilt, even though they are choosing to work. Women need to choose their path and accept what that means for their life. It's a choice and if you always feel guilty it can be very distracting to doing your job well and growing in an organization. The second issue women can have is not being aggressive enough in the workplace compared to their male peers. It is important for women to speak up more often and share their opinions as appropriate.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
I enjoyed Sheryl's book and think she has some valid points that some women feel that they need to have business success before adding a family into the mix. I actually found that because I have a family, I am a better leader and a better manager than I was before. I believe you can have it all; you just have to prioritize your life and know that you're never going to be perfect at everything or in every role (mom, wife and leader). You do your best every day and you make every day better than the one before.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have had different mentors in my life and they are great because they test your thinking around a particular challenge or event you may be facing and offer you a different way of looking at it. Here's an easy example: My childcare was only working from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., which in my role made my husband or me get to work late or rush home. My mentor simply suggested hiring a college student to help around the house from 3-7 p.m. every day. Then you know someone is there, and on the days you can get home, you have extra help. And the days you get pulled into a meeting till late at night, you have someone there. Easy solution but hard to see it for yourself when you are in the weeds or feeling pressure. A mentor can create clarity at the times you need it most.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Growing up, I admired Helen Keller's story because of her perseverance to live life to the fullest. I admire Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! for going against the grain and doing what she thinks is the best thing for her family--and for the business-- and not changing her mind when others start to offer their opinions. I admire Denise Morrison of Campbell's Soups for driving innovation and change in an organization that is over a century old.

What can consumers expect in the next year from the weight-loss industry?
Consumers should expect to see new product innovation, more technology partnerships, and more direct selling companies entering the space. We will see more opportunity to build lasting health options, starting with weight loss and following through to helping people keep the weight off.