Plexus’ Mike Beardall’s Route to the C-Suite 

Learn about COO Mike Beardall's, of CRN member Plexus Worldwide, unexpected entry into the supplements industry and get his take on the next biggest industry challenge.

In the mid-90s, Mike Beardall wasn’t the COO of Plexus Worldwide, the Phoenix, Arizona-based direct selling company founded in gut health and experts in microbiome. He was just a fresh-faced, humble senior accountant doing the “Deloitte thing” after picking up a master’s degree in accounting from Brigham Young University.  

As an accounting major, the young Beardall was taught that things needed to add up, and if they didn’t, steering clear was highly advisable. This is why when he befriended two entrepreneurs who were specializing in “bending pipe for the Alaskan pipeline,” he was understandably cautious. “At the time, I had just spent five or six years of college learning not to do some of the things these guys were doing, like taking out home equity loans to make payroll,” said Beardall. “But, despite my initial misgivings, we built a friendship, and I did some due diligence work for them and eventually oversaw the sale of their business.” 

It was a slight bend in the pipeline of Beardall’s career path, but it eventually led him straight into the supplements industry. 

It turns out that those same two friends later bought “a little contract manufacturer of nutritional supplements” called Modern Health Strategies. Intrigued by the entrepreneurial mindset, Beardall went all in and joined as their financial controller in 1999. In an ironic twist, the company was, among other things, making products for Nu Skin, where Beardall worked while in college. Soon the pipeline guys and Beardall sold that business, too, this time to a Japanese conglomerate, and then to two different “private equity guys.” All the while, Beardall wore nearly every available hat in the C-suite: COO, CFO and then, finally, the CEO title. 

As he moved up the corporate ladder, he also moved geographically. He went from Utah, to Florida, to Arizona, back to Utah, and, lastly, to Phoenix, Arizona. 

The stars lined up on the job front. Plexus CEO Gene Tipps and Beardall had known each other for well over a decade on the supply side of the industry. Over a business lunch, Beardall received the offer to be COO and his affirmative answer came quickly. 

Beardall has been in the supplements space long enough to trace back to some of the industry’s more recognizable transitions. He said his career began just a couple of years after the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) in 1994, back when the manufacturing side of the business was lacking any real oversight and felt “a little bit like the Wild, Wild West.” That period gave way to unprecedented growth on the brand side, as sales channels quickly moved from big box retail to direct-to-consumer models. 

“When anybody could actually start up a brand and do it via mail order or the Internet, that really changed the game,” recalled Beardall. “So, the manufacturing space became super crowded…You had a lot of people in manufacturing, but not a lot of third-party oversight.” 

Crowding and subsequent consolidation Beardall blamed for the loss of some of the “founder mentality” that helped so many early brands stand out. The ability to still hear “the voice of the customer” began to define success and failure in the direct-selling space. It is an insight that still guides him, but he admitted that, with FDA regulation leveling the playing field somewhat, for contract manufacturers, it’s mostly now about price and service. 

So, what’s the next big challenge for the industry? 
“I think innovation is a big piece of it. And product differentiation,” said Beardall. “One of the benefits that we have on the direct selling side is we have thousands of salespeople that can tell a story and educate on the ingredients, whereas some of the direct-to-consumer brands have to do that through social media channels or SEO-type marketing.”   

But one aspect of the business that Beardall said is critical is the ability to have a relationship “built on trust and timeless execution” with those with whom you do business. He recalled working with a customer-facing brand that was considering a voluntary recall over an impurity in the product. They wanted to pull the entire line but, having carefully cultivated the relationship up to that point, Beardall and his team invited the customer into the tracing investigation and, by committing to full transparency, managed to show the brand that only a batch recall was necessary. He said that he and that person working for the affected brand have remained friends through the years, and both men still point to the incident as an example of the power of well-crafted relationships when it comes to business built on ethics and quality delivered to the consumer. 

You never know when those relationships will get you through a tough time. Like when Beardall and a bunch of industry colleagues and customers were on a business trip and were stranded, flights canceled, at a snowed-in airport. 

“So, we're there for nine hours. And we're just in this teeny, little restaurant. And everybody's making the best of it, laughing and playing cards,” remembered Beardall. “But it's those shared experiences that end up making everything that you do worth it, right? And everybody who was there still remembers that story. Still remembers that time together. And that’s the professional equity down the road that matters."