Co-Founder & CEO, Whole Foods Market
Conscious Capitalism: How Purpose Can Affect Stakeholder Integration, Leadership, and Culture
John Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, has taken the natural and organic grocer from a single store in Austin, Texas in 1978, to a $15.7 billion Fortune 500 company and a top U.S. supermarket with more than 460 stores and 87,000 Team Members across the U.S., Canada and U.K. In 1981, Austin’s worst flood in history almost bankrupted the original store, and community efforts to save it shaped Mackey’s leadership philosophy to “do right by your stakeholders and they’ll do right by you.”
While devoting his entire career to providing shoppers with high quality natural and organic foods, Mackey has also focused on building a more conscious way of doing business. He led the company through more than 20 acquisitions, took Whole Foods Market public in 1992 and plans to grow to the company to 1,200 stores.
For 18 consecutive years, Fortune magazine has included Whole Foods Market on its “100 Best Companies to Work For” list. The company was named “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store” by Health Magazine, the top retailer for seafood sustainability by Greenpeace and one of “America’s 25 Most Inspiring Companies” by Forbes. Fortune also ranked Whole Foods Market first in the food and drug store industry and No. 20 overall for the magazine’s “Most Admired Companies” list.
Mackey has been the visionary for many successful programs at the core of Whole Foods Market. He created the Whole Planet Foundation in 2005 to help end poverty in developing nations. The foundation has committed more than $49 million and disbursed $33 million worldwide, supporting more than 3.3 million people in 59 countries where Whole Foods Market sources products. Thanks to Mackey, Whole Foods Market was the first national grocer to set and implement standards for humane farm animal treatment for the meat products it sells. In 2007, he launched the Local Producer Loan Program to help local farmers and food producers expand their businesses through low-interest loans. Since its inception, the company has disbursed $15 million in loans to more than 200 unique suppliers company-wide and recently pledged to increase the budget to $25 million.
Most recently, Mackey has focused on returning to the company’s roots around healthy eating and lifestyle choices. A staunch advocate of healthy eating education, he laid the foundation for health and wellness programs for team members and customers.
In 2003, he was named Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Overall Winner for the United States and Bon Appétit magazine’s “Tastemaker of the Year”. Vanity Fair called him “Best Provider” in its “Best of the Best in 2004,” Institutional Investor magazine rated him second on its “Best CEOs in America” list in 2005, and Barron’s put him on their “World’s Best CEOs” list in 2006. In 2008, he received an honorary Doctorate from Bentley College. And, in 2011, MarketWatch called him CEO of the Year and Fortune magazine called him “Businessperson of the Year.” Most recently, Esquire magazine named him one of the “Most Inspiring CEOs” and Fortune named him one of the “12 Greatest Entrepreneurs of Our Time” and “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.”
A strong believer in free market principles, Mackey co-founded the Conscious Capitalism Movement to challenge business leaders to rethink why their organizations exist and to acknowledge their important roles in creating value for all of their stakeholders in the interdependent global marketplace. This new business paradigm holds the potential for enhancing corporate performance while also advancing the quality of life for billions of people. He co-authored a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling book entitled Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business (Harvard Business Review Press 2013) to boldly defend and re-imagine capitalism while encouraging others to implement this way of doing business that is grounded in ethical consciousness.
Out of his respect for equity among Team Members, Mackey implemented a salary cap for all executives. He cut his own salary to $1 annually in 2006, and forgoes stock options and bonuses. He continues to work for Whole Foods Market out of a passion to see the business realize the potential for deeper purpose, for the joy of leading a great company, and to answer the call to service he feels in his heart.