The Interview — Naomi Kelman, CEO and President of Willow
Naomi Kelman is CEO and President of Willow. Naomi has always believed in and been inspired by the idea that women are exceptional people. Most recently she has worked tirelessly to create a game-changing solution for nursing moms with the introduction of Willow. Willow is the world’s first all-in-one wearable breast pump that fits inside a mom’s bra. Naomi’s strength is in re-imagining and truly listening for unmet needs and in delivering innovative solutions that make people’s lives better.
A consumer products veteran, Naomi spent her early years in the beauty industry at Clairol before becoming an expert in healthcare. She had a long and distinguished career at Johnson & Johnson as President of Vistakon (Acuvue contract lenses) and President of Lifescan (One Touch diabetes monitor). Kelman has broad global experience and she served as Division Head of the Global Over-the-Counter (OTC) Division of Novartis.
The oldest of four sisters, she is a strong advocate for women. Naomi understands the unconditional commitment of moms to provide for their babies and believes that Willow will be a platform to help moms achieve their own personal goals. Naomi received her BA and MBA from Cornell University. She lives in California with her family, and in her spare time, Naomi enjoys using her private pilot's license to explore the UD from the sky.
Interviews and Articles make it easy to learn more about the products that top our lists, what’s currently trending, and the leaders who inspire us. We are reader-supported and may earn a commission when you shop through our links.
How did you come up with the idea for Willow:
When the company was first being set up we had targeted the mom space early on as a place we wanted to focus and several different ideas were initially considered. And like with many things, a casual comment to one of our founders snowballed into the idea that ultimately became the Willow all-in-one wearable breast pump. Sometimes, it’s all the about the right comment at the right time. This was one of those situations.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when first starting out and how did you overcome these obstacles:
There hadn’t been major innovation in the breast pump space for so long that our challenge was keeping it simple and focusing on the few key things that would help moms most. We also gave ourselves permission to not improve the status quo but to totally re-imagine it. From the get-go our top priorities were to make an all-in-one wearable breast pump that unplugged moms from the wall and gave her mobility and hands back. And it was also important to us that it could be tucked in the bra so that she didn’t have to fully undress or give up her dignity.
View Naomi's Essentials
Walk us through a typical work day:
I like to get up early and clear my inbox, and generally, I try not to do email during the day. I like to be fully engaged with the team once I get in. Right now, we are developing lots of really cool additional new products for moms beyond the pump and I spend a considerable amount of my time focused on this. Listening to moms is also an important part of what I do and that is also one of the first things I do every day. I’m really optimistic about the future and excited about what’s to come.
Best piece of advice you would give to new moms:
Momma, you’re doing great! At times, everyone feels like being a mom is overwhelming. At Willow, we believe that motherhood is about letting go of being perfect and allowing the beautiful chaos to flood in.
List three words that describe you best:
Self-confident, loyal, imaginative
Your most recent beauty or fashion discovery:
I swear by Allbirds (shoes). I even have a black pair for ‘formal’ occasions.
What apps and gadgets can’t you live without:
My favorite app by far is Foreflight (for pilots) and I drag my iPad around everywhere with me.
First thing you do in the morning:
I’m an early riser. My day starts with a special coffee blend that my husband makes for me; it’s half caramel pecan/half Starbucks—smooth and delicious, but strong (which I like). I hang out in my pajamas, read the paper, and then I’ll clear my inbox for the coming day.
What does work-life balance mean to you:
We work incredibly hard at Willow—and I am so proud of our team. Equally, it’s also so important that we get to spend time with family, pursuing our hobbies and passions and really just enjoying life. I’ve always had interesting hobbies; my latest is that I am a pilot. My husband and I love taking quick day trips along the California coast. We just found a restaurant in SoCal that has a landing strip attached that serves delicious gourmet food. It’s now our favorite day trip. Flying is a great way to really see things from a different viewpoint and is a great way to decompress!
What’s next for Willow:
It’s been truly rewarding to introduce the Willow wearable breast pump and to hear the stories from moms on what a difference it’s made. Willow is going to continue to focus on moms and we have a suite of products planned for introduction in the coming months that will compliment what we’ve started. Our goal is to give moms brilliant solutions that address their everyday challenges.