John Mackey
Business Ethics

John Mackey's evolution from starting a small vegetarian store to being the CEO of Whole Foods illustrates the transformative power of conscious leadership and ethical business practices. His journey, fueled by personal transformation and dedication to health-conscious living, led to the creation of a $13.7 billion company that upheld strong values even after merging with Amazon. Businesses can thrive while positively impacting the community and environment through sustainable and ethical practices.

John Mackey
Listen Now
Show Notes

John Mackey is a notable American entrepreneur and the co-founder of Whole Foods Market. He served as CEO from its start in 1980 until 2022, transforming the grocery industry by emphasizing organic food and sustainable practices. Recognized as Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2003, Mackey is a prominent advocate for conscious capitalism, which harmonizes ethical business practices with profitability.

Mackey is also a vocal libertarian, known for his critical views on labor unions and his contributions to the business and social responsibility sectors through books like “Conscious Capitalism” (2013). His leadership at Whole Foods, which he grew into a multi-billion dollar company, has made him a significant figure in promoting high standards for quality and environmental stewardship in business.

“If you want to be competitive in the long term, your business needs to have discovered its higher purpose. It needs to adopt a stakeholder philosophy.” – John Mackey

Key Takeaways

  • The Importance of a Purpose-Driven Business: John Mackey emphasizes that your business needs a purpose beyond profit. Whole Foods was built not just to sell organic food but to nourish people and the planet, attracting customers and employees who shared these values.
  • Adapting Business Practices for Growth: Strategic decisions were made to adapt Whole Foods’ business model by expanding product offerings and becoming less rigid in their product mix, which was crucial for scaling up the business and appealing to a broader customer base.
  • Maintaining Core Values Amidst Growth: Even as Whole Foods expanded, Mackey and his team maintained strict quality standards, refusing to sell artificial ingredients and setting high standards for meat and produce. This commitment to quality helped differentiate Whole Foods from other supermarkets and maintained its brand integrity.
  • Cultural Impact on Employee Retention and Morale: The culture at Whole Foods, driven by core values and mutual respect, contributed significantly to high employee retention rates. Mackey believes that providing a workplace where employees feel appreciated and purposeful is essential for sustaining a successful business.

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[00:00:00] Mark Divine: Let’s, you know, kind of start back at the beginning of the whole food story.

[00:00:03] John Mackey: In our very first year at the big Whole Foods market store, we experienced a hundred-year flood and it wiped our store out. And the only way we recovered was through our neighbors. Our customers, they didn’t want us to die. In some sense, we were always trying to pay back our stakeholders for what they did to us.

[00:00:20] Mark Divine: Multi-stakeholder focus and benefit is at the root of your conscious capitalism movement. What is your view on that? 

[00:00:27] John Mackey: One of the things that we discovered, this is the most actionable thing I’ll tell you because every organization can do this. It’s very simple. The best way to maximize long-term shareholder value 

[00:00:39] Mark Divine: John, thanks so much for your time here, for joining me on the Mark Divine show.

[00:00:42] Mark Divine: I really appreciate it. I’m excited to talk to you kind of about, well, everything, you know, the book you’ve written about your life, about Whole Foods, but I’m particularly interested in conscious capitalism and you know, where we’re going right in the world right now. So there’s so many interesting things going on.

[00:00:59] Mark Divine: You know, before we kind of get into like the future stuff and your perspectives on that, help us kind of like get a snapshot for the origin story of John, you know, starting a co op or whatever it was that, you know, down in Austin, Texas where Whole Foods got its start. It’s like, how did even that come about?

[00:01:16] Mark Divine: And let’s, you know, kind of start back at the beginning of the Whole Foods story in terms of how that even became, you know, became a reality. 

[00:01:23] John Mackey: Well, of course in the book I talk about a psychedelic experience I had when I was 22 years old. When I experienced an LSD trip that I experienced an ego death on.

[00:01:34] John Mackey: And that radically changed the trajectory of my life. As I made a lot of philosophical shifts after that. And within about a year of that experience, I moved into a vegetarian co op. And it was, it was a housing co op. So it was, we were living communally. And there were about 18 people in that group. And they were all college students who were, you know, in their very early 20s.

[00:01:56] John Mackey: And I wasn’t a vegetarian when I moved in. I just moved in and I thought I’d meet interesting people there. And I did. I did become a vegetarian. That was when I had my food awakening. I got very interested. I’d never made the connection. I knew exercise, you could make you feel better, but I, I, I always thought of food was just like, I was a car and I would go in to fuel up.

[00:02:15] Mark Divine: That’s pretty common. Yeah, 

[00:02:16] John Mackey: exactly. Not that I needed to nourish my trillions and trillions of cells. So, I had the food awakening and I got very interested in natural and organic foods and I started to study it. The more I studied it, the more interested I got. I became the food buyer for the co op. I learned to cook.

[00:02:32] John Mackey: I went to work for a small natural food store called Good Foods and then I went back to the co op one day and I pitched my girlfriend, who I met at the co op, about starting up our own store and she was excited about it and so we did. And that first store was not Whole Foods, it was called Safer Way. It was in an old, big Victorian house where Ney and I lived on the, it was a vegetarian store.

[00:02:53] John Mackey: It was very pure. We lived in the store on the third floor where the office was. And we did that for a couple of years and lost money overall, but I somehow or another persuaded the investors to, to relocate it and we merged with another small store and renamed it Whole Foods Market. And that store took off.

[00:03:12] John Mackey: It was very successful from the first, first day we opened it. 

[00:03:15] Mark Divine: What did you do different in that, you know, after you merged and started the second phase? Well, it 

[00:03:20] John Mackey: was still a natural food store, but we changed up our product mix considerably. We, we started selling meat, seafood, coffee, beer and wine. Um, some sugar, products with sugar in them.

[00:03:31] John Mackey: We let go of our rigidity in our product mix. It was still a natural food store. We were really focused on organic foods, natural, lots of fruits and vegetables, organic fruits and vegetables. And so we were definitely very, very different than any other supermarket in Austin. 

[00:03:47] Mark Divine: But especially at the time.

[00:03:48] Mark Divine: Yes. 

[00:03:48] John Mackey: But we had a certain appeal to a younger baby boom generation that was part of the counterculture, you might say, really were our initial customers, the hippies, who aren’t really our original customers. 

[00:04:00] Mark Divine: And how did you draw the line or like stand your ground with regard to maintaining that kind of vision for the product, the type of products that you were going to have and not have?

[00:04:10] Mark Divine: Right. Cause I could see that, imagine like profit margins and you know, there’s probably a lot of things that could have pulled you a little bit more mainstream. How did you stand your ground as a company? 

[00:04:21] John Mackey: It’s a good question. Um, and. It evolved over time as we learned more and knew more. But we were still committed to selling really healthy food to people.

[00:04:29] John Mackey: And we wanted to differentiate ourselves from competitors. So it was important that we not just sell everything or we wouldn’t be any different than everybody else. So it came down to our basic qual we called them quality standards. Uh, we had a I’m going to talk a little bit about what we did in the beginning of the project.

[00:04:42] John Mackey: We had a team that worked on the quality standards and did a deeper dive into what we sold. We tried not to sell artificial ingredients, flavorings, colorings, and preservatives. That was a very, kind of a stake in the ground. And we ended up listing hundreds of items, artificial ingredients, that we would not allow in our food.

[00:04:59] John Mackey: Over time, we took a stand on, say, meat. Wanted our meat to be naturally raised, no growth hormones, no antibiotics. Then we evolved to have animal welfare standards as well. That we, we wanted to rate our foods and our meats in terms of how they were raised and how the ranchers treated them, because there’s a huge differential between the factory farm animals that are raised and people mostly eat versus higher degrees of animal welfare, which are more expensive to raise, but the animals get to live out their lives as animals.

[00:05:28] John Mackey: With seafood, sustainability was another big issue for us because increasingly over time. Well, we’re fishing out the oceans basically. And so sustainability is a big question. And we, we got involved in that and we stopped selling a lot of fish that were considered to be endangered. And we, we rate all of our fish based on, uh, sustainability indices.

[00:05:48] John Mackey: So those are some of the things we did. There were others. 

[00:05:50] Mark Divine: That’s fascinating. And I, where my mind is going is how challenging that must have been to maintain those standards as you scaled just from a sourcing standpoint. So what were some of the biggest obstacles in that regard as you started to scale and had, you know, troubles with supply chain stuff?

[00:06:07] John Mackey: The biggest problem initially was just our own internal debates. I’ve kind of taken a personal vow to never ever again argue about sugar with people, for example. But what ended up happening over time as Whole Foods got larger was The suppliers wanted to be in our stores and we wouldn’t let their products in if they didn’t meet our standards.

[00:06:24] John Mackey: So they changed their products to meet our standards. We didn’t have that kind of clout when we were getting going, but over time a whole industry kind of got built around meeting Whole Foods Market’s quality standards. 

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[00:07:35] Mark Divine: That is delicious. One of the keys to building an extraordinary business like whole foods obviously is just the talent pool. So what was your secret to attracting, you know, a players and top talent so that you could, you know, kind of get out of your own way, so to speak. 

[00:07:50] John Mackey: What I discovered is that. The two most important things everybody’s looking for in a job, if they can find it.

[00:07:56] John Mackey: First, they’re looking for purpose. They want to feel like their job accounts for something, that they’re creating some kind of value in the world, that, that most people in most jobs don’t see how they’re doing, what they’re doing, how it’s contributing to other people. Now I think most jobs, not all jobs, but most jobs do contribute to other people, but businesses don’t do a good job of drawing that.

[00:08:18] John Mackey: Connecting the dots and, and Whole Foods was good at that. We made, made a big deal. We, we talked about purpose, higher purpose all the time. We, we had a higher purpose to nourish people in the planet. We had core values. We had these quality standards. We cared about animal welfare. These were all things that made us walking our talk in terms of being truly a purpose driven business.

[00:08:40] John Mackey: Purpose attracts people, and it holds people. So that’s half of the equation. The other half of the equation is people want to be loved. People want to be cared about. They don’t want to work in a job where they don’t feel like anybody cares about them. And if you give people purpose and love, You’re giving them the two things that they crave the most that are from a psychic emotional standpoint.

[00:09:01] John Mackey: I think that’s how Whole Foods attracted so many great people and that’s how come we held them for such a long time. It was one of the weirdest things when Amazon bought Whole Foods and they were looking under the hood and the single thing that most surprised them the most was how long people worked for the company.

[00:09:16] John Mackey: Decade after decade after decade. That wasn’t the way it was done at Amazon. 

[00:09:20] Mark Divine: You know, I’m struck because I’m an author as you are and You know, it’s difficult to say profound things in a simple way. And I love how you just distilled a profound truth about attraction and retains people as purpose and love.

[00:09:38] Mark Divine: Well, you distilled it to two words, simple, but not easy. I think the purpose part. is probably easier than the love part. So how did you inject love into the culture at Whole Foods? 

[00:09:50] John Mackey: Well, first you have to articulate it, that it’s an important value that caring about team member happiness and wellbeing was one of our core values at Whole Foods.

[00:10:00] John Mackey: It was pretty much in every one of our stores and it was something we talked about constantly. So there was an expectation that we would care about the people that work there. But secondly, and probably equally as important is. It’s very important that I embody it as a CEO and that I promote and reward leaders that also embody it, but you know, the cliche people pay a lot more attention to what you do than what you say, so you can talk about it all you want, but how do you do it?

[00:10:29] John Mackey: How do you do it? And one of the things that we discovered, this is the most actionable thing I’ll tell you because every organization can do this. It’s very simple. And it makes a huge, profound difference. We’d end all of our meetings with what we called appreciations. Appreciations were always voluntary.

[00:10:46] John Mackey: No one had to do it. But they were so powerful in Whole Foods that we had to set limits on how long appreciations could go on. Because you don’t want to have a, you know, an hour meeting and an hour of appreciations. So we set limits on how many people you could appreciate. People know the difference between when somebody’s sort of flattering them and when they’re actually doing an authentic appreciation.

[00:11:08] John Mackey: And the difference between the two is that an authentic appreciation You really can’t do it if you don’t open your heart. People can tell the difference. So it’s very difficult to continue to remain judgment of a person that you feel genuinely appreciated to you publicly. It’s very powerful. So I’d say you have to articulate it as a core value.

[00:11:29] John Mackey: You have to embody it as a leader and then appreciations reinforce it on a day to day basis. Oh, fire the assholes. 

[00:11:40] Mark Divine: Absolutely. You know, I was in the SEAL teams. I don’t know if you remember that, you know, we, we got rid of the jerks fast because they didn’t make it through training. 

[00:11:48] John Mackey: I have a couple of Navy SEAL friends.

[00:11:50] John Mackey: I thought it was kind of like survival of the fittest. I mean, who can endure the most pain? 

[00:11:56] Mark Divine: That’s part of it. But, um, everyone who shows up can endure a lot of pain. And so what’s, what’s happening is the system and the instructors are choosing their next teammates and they don’t want to work with jerks.

[00:12:07] John Mackey: So there’s sort of a, uh, an unconscious selection bias against the jerks. 

[00:12:13] Mark Divine: Definitely. 

[00:12:13] John Mackey: Yeah. 

[00:12:13] Mark Divine: Well, and jerks don’t, they don’t make good teammates. Right. Cause they’re self centered. Exactly. So. 

[00:12:17] John Mackey: Exactly. 

[00:12:18] Mark Divine: That team, the ability to take your eyes off yourself, put it on the team and you can build that into a culture.

[00:12:23] Mark Divine: You can call it love or, you know, teamwork. It’s, it’s really the same thing. 

[00:12:27] John Mackey: The Navy SEALs that I know, they are very caring people, very service oriented. They truly know the meaning of a servant leader. I 

[00:12:36] Mark Divine: want to ask about Amazon. So what led you to sell Whole Foods and did you find Amazon or did they find you?

[00:12:45] John Mackey: Well, what led us to sell Whole Foods was we had shareholder activists. They were trying to take over our business. Jana Partners acquired a minority stake. I met with them and they had this PowerPoint presentation that was not very accurate, but it created a narrative that we were doing a very terrible job for the shareholders.

[00:13:05] John Mackey: And they didn’t want to work with us. They told us that, look, first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to take over your board. After you were a public company, oh yeah, we’d been public for 25 years. Okay. We’re going to take over your board. And after you take over the board, we’re going to fire the management team.

[00:13:22] John Mackey: And then we’re going to put this business up for sale to the highest bidder. And there’s not a darn thing you can do about it. Not a damn thing to do about it. And so they didn’t want to work with us. And so the, we began to explore our options. We hired investment bankers to create a defense for us. We hired.

[00:13:38] John Mackey: Defense attorneys, and we were prepared to fight. But the question I was asking all along, What’s the win win win solution for all of our stakeholders? What’s going to be the best thing for our customers, the best thing for our team members, best thing for our suppliers, best thing for the investors, and best thing for the communities we’re involved in?

[00:13:54] John Mackey: And so the other options besides JANA just taking over the company would be, we could have taken a private. We looked at that, but taking it private would have meant putting literally 12 or 13 billion dollars of debt on our balance sheet. That we would have had to service that debt, and you’d be risking the entire company for bankruptcy if the company had a That’s how that going private works.

[00:14:17] John Mackey: We thought about selling it into friendly hands, like we approached Warren Buffett, for example. He kind of sloughed it off and said, Hey, I own Dairy Queen. I don’t think Whole Foods really fits into my brand. He’s always had a great sense of humor. 

[00:14:30] Mark Divine: Yes, he did. 

[00:14:31] John Mackey: And we met with Albertsons on an informal basis to see if they might be a good partner for us.

[00:14:36] John Mackey: I came away thinking this is exactly what we don’t want to have happen. We don’t want a conventional supermarket to take over Whole Foods. That’ll be bad for most of our stakeholders. So I had met Jeff Bezos about a year before in a conference called the Microsoft CEO Summit. I met him. He and I were actually the two people on a panel together and we got together and talked informally about.

[00:15:00] John Mackey: Well, he’s into science fiction and fantasy books, and I am too. And he’s also a scuba diver, and so am I. So we had, those were the common areas. And so I liked him. And Jeff’s one of the great entrepreneurs of this era. He’s a brilliant man, and I happen to be a big fan of Amazon. They’ve always put the customers first.

[00:15:17] John Mackey: They’re very customer centric. Now, I didn’t think about that initially. That was kind of like, I kept asking the question, what’s the win win win solution? What’s the win win win solution? Good for all the stakeholders. One day I woke up in the morning and it just flashed in my mind like that. What about Amazon?

[00:15:35] John Mackey: And we contacted them. I flew down with three of my team members and my leaders. We met with Jeff and three of his leaders. We had a three hour conversation. Two days later, they came to Austin and started doing due diligence. And six weeks after that first meeting, we signed a merger agreement. So it was kind of a whirlwind romance 

[00:15:53] Mark Divine: that were they already in food.

[00:15:54] Mark Divine: Did they have their Amazon fresh at the time? Yes, they did. And they were, 

[00:15:58] John Mackey: and this was a time when Amazon was getting more interested in brick and mortar stores. They wanted to take Amazon fresh into brick and mortar. And we’re already planning on doing that. They wanted to, they were doing their, they did, they did some physical bookstores.

[00:16:14] John Mackey: They opened that up for a while. They did four store, four star stores. They had their Amazon Go stores, just walk out technology. So they, they were dipping their toe, you might say in the water about physical stores. And so our timing on that was really good because we had intellectual capital that could help Amazon.

[00:16:32] John Mackey: And so that’s the main reason they, I think they wanted to do the deal. 

[00:16:36] Mark Divine: From your perspective now, how has Amazon done with Whole Foods? Good, bad, and the ugly. 

[00:16:42] John Mackey: Well, I mean, first of all, it was a win win win solution for Whole Foods. Think about it. It was good for our customers. Amazon let us drop our prices four times.

[00:16:51] John Mackey: We needed to get past the whole paycheck narrative. In the first two years, we dropped our price. Prices, four separate times, significantly each time. They were, they were willing to make less money in the short run. One of the things I like about Amazon is they think long term. Secondly, they raised pay for everyone that worked for Whole Foods.

[00:17:09] John Mackey: They put it, yeah, they put, they put a minimum wage in just a month or two after the acquisition occurred of 15, and of course that raised everybody’s pay. Anybody that was below 15 went to 15. So then if you were at 15, you went up from there. And so it had, it cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year to do that.

[00:17:27] John Mackey: So it was good for our team members and also gave team members opportunities with Amazon. So many Whole Foods people now work for Amazon. It was good for our suppliers. We didn’t have to drop any of our suppliers and, and quite just the opposite. Once Amazon saw our sales volume, they picked up a lot of our suppliers because they could see how much business we were doing with a particular supplier.

[00:17:46] John Mackey: And then they wanted that in the Amazon first stores. So it’s good for our suppliers. Good for our investors. We had a 30 percent price premium that they got. When the sale went through and I’d say ultimately good for our communities as well that Amazon did not interfere with our philanthropic work. I go into detail in the book towards the end to your second question, which is what I think about it now.

[00:18:07] John Mackey: And the real question is, if I could do it all over again, would I make the same choice? And do I have any regrets? Those are the questions I get asked. You know what I regret? I would rather have stayed independent, but I regret the circumstances that we found ourselves in that made Amazon the best option.

[00:18:23] John Mackey: They were the best option. Given the same circumstances, if I had to go back into the past, I’d make the exact same decision. It truly was a win win for our stakeholders. Hey, I liked running an independent company. I wish we could have stayed independent. I go into some details in the book about how Whole Foods may be created, a situation that led to that.

[00:18:42] John Mackey: All in all, it was the right decision for the company, and I don’t really regret it. 

[00:18:45] Mark Divine: Amazon has been true to the vision and the values of Whole Foods. I mean, I was in one just recently, and they even allowed, uh, Amazon Prime. There’s some sort of discount you get. Uh, and the, the stores have kind of held their culture in, in other words.

[00:18:59] Mark Divine: I mean, they’re, they’re still Whole Foods. 

[00:19:01] John Mackey: Well, they are. I mean, a metaphor I might use is that. Whole Foods has a very powerful culture, and Whole Foods people are very proud of the culture, and we’re a pretty big company. Whole Foods was a Fortune 250 company when Amazon bought us. But Amazon was a fortune five company when they bought us.

[00:19:18] John Mackey: We were like a Jupiter, a pretty big planet. The gravitational pull of Amazon was more powerful than Jupiter’s gravitational pull. So some of Amazon’s culture, inevitably, they didn’t try to consciously change Whole Foods. They didn’t come in and say, we’re going to change everything about your company.

[00:19:35] John Mackey: They were actually very respectful and tried to let Whole Foods be Whole Foods. But over time, a lot of things Amazon does sort of bled into Whole Foods, I think, I mean, it’s still Whole Foods, but it’s different. It’s been influenced by Amazon. Whole Foods was already centralizing things and that accelerated under Amazon’s ownership.

[00:19:52] John Mackey: I’d say the company’s more efficient. And the thing that’s weird is that, you know, COVID messed everything up. It’d be very interesting to see how Whole Foods would be today if COVID had never happened. It’d be different. There’s no question about it. COVID was a life changing event. For one thing, so many people stopped going to the office.

[00:20:09] John Mackey: A lot of them haven’t come back to the offices, which means like our lunch business, our prepared case business has never recovered from what it was pre COVID. And Amazon really accelerated centralization. That’s another thing they did for us. Amazon scaled us up for delivery. We couldn’t have done that.

[00:20:26] John Mackey: They had the resources and the team to scale us quickly. So we were able to do home delivery all around the United States. Soon after COVID hit. And that ended up being a huge benefit, but that also led to a takeover of a lot of space in our stores. It led to more centralization. Amazon employees were the ones doing the delivery and doing the order filling.

[00:20:48] John Mackey: That led to confusion, if nothing else, with a lot of our customers. 

[00:20:52] Mark Divine: Yeah, and that story is still being written. You mentioned, you know, the multi stakeholder win with regards to the acquisition. And of course, multi stakeholder focus and benefit is at the root of your conscious capitalism movement and the book you wrote about that.

[00:21:06] Mark Divine: So can you give us, you know, just kind of the origin story of how that came about? Sounds like it came about through your work trying to find multi stakeholder, you know, wins at Whole Foods. 

[00:21:17] John Mackey: The actual answer to that is a little more complex. It really, I got my first take of stakeholders. I didn’t have the language.

[00:21:24] John Mackey: But, in our very first year at the Big Whole Foods Market store, uh, we experienced a hundred year flood. The worst flood Austin experienced in over a hundred years. And, it wiped our store out. We should have died. It was a near death experience. Really? Yes. And, the only way we recovered Was we didn’t call the stake holders, but that’s what they were.

[00:21:45] John Mackey: Our neighbors, our customers came and helped clean up the store, they didn’t want us to die. The team members worked for free for 30 days while we tried to get back on our feet. Investors put in more money. Suppliers fronted us over 400, 000 of new inventory. Although we still owed them for the inventory that had been washed away in the flood.

[00:22:04] John Mackey: A bank loaned us 100, 000. Now this one’s unbelievable. The bank actually turned the loan down. But the personal banker personally guaranteed the 100, 000 loan because he just believed in me and he believed in Whole Foods and he knew we’d pay him back. And so they didn’t let us die. And it was only later when I learned about stakeholder language that I realized, my God, that’s what happened with Whole Foods.

[00:22:29] John Mackey: In some sense, we were always trying to pay back our stakeholders for what they did to us. And this is the key thing. Most people think about stakeholders in terms of trade offs. They see that they’re like, if you’re paying somebody more, then that means you’re going to have to have higher prices. Or if you pay better to your employees, you’re going to make less money.

[00:22:48] John Mackey: There’s this constant thinking that the stakeholders are sort of competing with each other, struggling with each other. And that is true to a certain extent. But that is like 10 percent of the story. The bigger part of the story is that these stakeholders are basically interdependent on each other. And that you’re, you’re basically an ecosystem.

[00:23:08] John Mackey: You’re managing the integrity of an entire stakeholder ecosystem. And so once you realize the interdependence. And you start to ask different questions. How can we develop strategies? Where all of our stakeholders are benefiting simultaneously. So how can we create more value for all of them? More value for our customers.

[00:23:29] John Mackey: More value for our employees. More value for our suppliers. More value for our investors. More value for the communities that we’re in. As long as you’re in the trade off frame of mind, you won’t see it. But once you make this shift mentally, to see how they’re interdependent, and that they’re connected.

[00:23:46] John Mackey: For example, If you screw your employees, that may result in higher profits in the short run. In the long run, you’re probably going to get labor unions. You’re going to get strikes, and pay may go up a lot higher, because your employees are angry at you and they seek revenge. If you screw your suppliers and you try to cheat them, well, you can get away with that for a little while, but what happens is they begin to cut you out of their best deals.

[00:24:11] John Mackey: You’re no longer a preferential customer. If you’re a customer at all, they may decide they don’t want to trade with you any longer. It’s true of each of the stakeholder groups. There’s a balance between all the stakeholders and a good leader senses that balance, sees the interdependency, sees that there’s this interconnected system and tries to manage that system in the most intelligent, Way possible so that all are flourishing win win win.

[00:24:37] John Mackey: How 

[00:24:37] Mark Divine: does this connect to the idea of? Sustainability and like moving more toward a circular economy instead of you know the extraction to garbage dump economy that we have right now Imagine there’s a strong connection especially from your industry. 

[00:24:52] John Mackey: Well, I think there’s an environmental stakeholder that I didn’t include You’re trading voluntarily with all the other stakeholders The environment is kind of like the surrounds the whole thing.

[00:25:02] John Mackey: That’s so, yeah. It’s a meta stakeholder. Yeah. It’s a meta stakeholder and nobody speaks for the environment, right? It can’t go argue its own case, but that was always an important value for whole foods, sustainability, animal welfare, being good environmental citizens is important to us. That being said, that is one of the stakeholders, but it’s not the only stakeholder, if you start to trade off all the other stakeholders, it’s not Just to try to fulfill the environmental stakeholder, you’ll end up wrecking your business.

[00:25:33] John Mackey: There’s always limits for what you can do in the present reality as you find it. But obviously, in the long term, We’re going to want to have a more sustainable economy. But we, we can’t put the whole world in poverty now that people are beginning to escape it because we don’t want to use fossil fuels, for example.

[00:25:51] John Mackey: Fossil fuels are the basis, that’s the fundamental energy source that’s allowed humanity to begin to create prosperity, not for a few people, but for literally billions of people. So we can’t just throw that away or we’d plunge back into the pre industrial economy. So we have to do this in a thoughtful, intelligent way.

[00:26:10] John Mackey: What 


[00:31:19] Mark Divine: do you think, and maybe you just answered the question about the whole pushback against ESG, you know, environmental, social, and governance, you know, there’s investor pushback and I think there’s kind of a backlash against that whole idea. 

[00:31:32] John Mackey: I would say ESG is important. It’s something that shouldn’t be ignored, but it’s not the most important thing.

[00:31:39] John Mackey: And this is the thing that people don’t understand when you talk about stakeholders. And I talked about the interdependencies, but all those stakeholders are not, they all matter, but they’re not all equal. Not in business. By far the most important stakeholder is the customer. No customer is no business.

[00:31:54] John Mackey: And if you don’t have satisfied customers, your business is going to fail. So I would say probably the customer is the most important stakeholder. And since a lot of businesses don’t even have employees, But they all have owners. I’d have to say the owners are probably the second most important stakeholder.

[00:32:08] John Mackey: Employees third, then probably suppliers, then the communities that were part of, and then the environment, they’re all matter. So if you start sacrificing your customers, your employees, your investors, and everything else for ESG ideology, we are probably destroying the business. And then you’re ESG goals.

[00:32:27] John Mackey: Let’s just say we, again, we have to do this in a very thoughtful way. How do we move? in ways that are consider of ESG issues. And one of the ways I think about it is, they can’t be forced on the business externally. It’s better if they’re internal, if they become part of your own internal thinking system.

[00:32:46] John Mackey: For example, Whole Foods is in the food business. From an ESG standpoint, it’s far more important that we work in the area where we’re good at, like seafood sustainability, or animal welfare, or regenerative agriculture. Those are areas that are directly connected to what our business model is, rather than more abstract environmental issues that may not have anything directly to do with our company.

[00:33:10] John Mackey: But that somebody else outside the company thinks is important. ESG is a prickly thing. I almost hate to go any further about it into this. Cause I know I’m just going to upset people. 

[00:33:19] Mark Divine: I had a conversation about ESG with the CEO of EY and that was, I got to a little political gobbledygook pretty quick.

[00:33:27] John Mackey: They’re going to get paid either way. They’re an accounting firm. 

[00:33:29] Mark Divine: That’s true. Good point. You’ve mentioned a few things that piqued my interest, obviously, you’re Texan, I share your views on fossil fuels and I’m very sensitive to the, you know, backlash from the global South talking about green colonialism and, you know, imposing Western views, which are largely kind of these neoliberal kind of, I guess, what’s the word, green meme, you know, you’ve got to go green and the climate is going to, Destroy everybody 

[00:33:56] John Mackey: progressive postmodern worldview 

[00:33:58] Mark Divine: progressive postmodernism, right?

[00:34:00] Mark Divine: Thank you that and the global south is saying well, wait, wait a minute You know If you’re saying that we can’t you know Enjoy the the development and the wealthy that whether accrued to the north through fossil fuels and we’ve got it Like what it’s a real problem And so I guess I’m curious like what issues keep you up at night because there’s so much going on in the world and so Much so many interesting things happening.

[00:34:21] John Mackey: I’ve reached a different phase of my life mark You You know, I’m 70 years old now. I’ve decided that talking about politics just gets people upset. 

[00:34:28] Mark Divine: Oh, for sure. Set politics aside. 

[00:34:31] John Mackey: I’ve also decided that on any of the problems that I can’t do anything about, I don’t spend much time thinking about them or worrying about them.

[00:34:39] John Mackey: I just want to do as much good as I can do in the world. And I have areas where I can do good and make a contribution. So I’m focused on that. People spend a lot of time being upset and anxious and afraid. I mean, here’s the thing I want to get across, and I try to get across every time I get an opportunity to do this.

[00:34:56] John Mackey: This is the best time it’s ever been to be alive, in the entire history of the human race. People are concerned about these problems as if there were no problems in the past. The problems in the past were far worse problems than we have today. People worry about issues like racism and climate change.

[00:35:12] John Mackey: They worry about inequality, things like that. And here’s the thing. I mean, when has the world not been racist? Right. It’s probably never, probably less racist today than it’s ever been, particularly in the countries like the United States, which if you know the history of America, it’s a history of massive racism.

[00:35:29] John Mackey: And there’s just a lot less today than there used to be. Is it perfect? No. Are we making progress? Yeah. Yes. Almost every way. The book I always try to get people to read, it’s like the number one book if I could get any people to read one book, besides my own book of course. The whole story. I would really love for people to read Steve Pinker’s book Enlightenment Now.

[00:35:48] John Mackey: Where he documents, just overwhelmingly, how much progress humanity has made. In every area, every single area that you can think about. But people, we just hear all this scare stuff all the time about how horrible things are. This has been the best time, and so many young people don’t want to have children because they don’t want to raise them in a society that That’s got so many problems.

[00:36:10] John Mackey: It’s like you got to be kidding me. This is the best it’s ever been and guess what? Do we still have problems? Sure. When have we not had problems? And that’s the job of every generation to solve some of the problems that their parents couldn’t solve. And guess what? They’ll create new problems that their children will have to solve.

[00:36:27] John Mackey: That’s the human condition and it’s not going to change. We’re not going to create a utopia, human beings are what we are, but we can evolve, we can grow, and we are. And we’re making progress, we’re just not going to make it perfect. 

[00:36:39] Mark Divine: If Peter Diamandis with his work with Abundance really helped open my eyes to kind of just that same story you’re talking about with Enlightenment now, we are in an extremely abundant world.

[00:36:50] Mark Divine: And I think you have to train yourself to have an abundant mindset and to be optimistic about the future because there’s so much negativity and kind of cultural conditioning to catastrophize and to think that, you know, the world is falling apart. I am a 

[00:37:02] John Mackey: huge optimist. 

[00:37:04] Mark Divine: Where is Conscious Capitalism going?

[00:37:06] Mark Divine: What’s next for that? What’s the future hold? 

[00:37:08] John Mackey: People misunderstand Conscious Capitalism, because let me tell you what it’s not. Conscious Capitalism is not an economic system. Conscious Capitalism is not a political ideology. Conscious Capitalism is a management philosophy. It’s just a way you should manage your business.

[00:37:24] Mark Divine: Is there a sort of movement behind it as well, though? I mean, like a community of practitioners? Yes, 

[00:37:29] John Mackey: we have a community of practitioners. But it’s a catchy brand name. And so it’s being attacked politically on both sides. 

[00:37:37] Mark Divine: Yeah, 

[00:37:37] John Mackey: well, the traditional capitalists don’t think you need to put the modifier conscious behind capitalism.

[00:37:42] John Mackey: Capitalism is just fine the way it is. But if other people will call them the anti capitalists. Who don’t like capitalism. They’re trying to weaponize conscious capitalism to take power away from the shareholders. They’re using stakeholder philosophy, which again is a management philosophy, how you should manage it.

[00:37:57] John Mackey: They’re trying to take power from the owners and redistribute that. So like you’d have a board that had a customer representative, you’d have a labor union representative. You’d have a supplier representative, and you’d have an owner representative, and they’d sort out how the money gets divided up, and that just basically would take power and control away from the, the investor class and the ownership class, and I’m very much opposed to that, and that’s not what we meant by conscious capitalism.

[00:38:23] John Mackey: What it is, it’s a management philosophy that believes every business has a potential for a higher purpose. It has to make money, of course, but if you ask what’s the higher purpose of a doctor, it’s to heal people, right? What’s the higher purpose of a teacher? Architects design things. Engineers construct things.

[00:38:42] John Mackey: Every one of the professions has a higher purpose. They all have to make money. Well, business is the same way. It has to make money or it’ll die. But that doesn’t mean it exists to make money. It exists to create value for customers. And it’s higher purpose can be derived from that understanding of how they create value for customers.

[00:39:00] John Mackey: And that’s the way business should market itself about the value it’s creating, not about the money it’s making. That’s a by product of creating value for other people. Secondly, there are all these stakeholders and they all do matter. And we should be conscious of them. The best way to maximize long term shareholder value.

[00:39:15] John Mackey: Is to not make it the primary goal. You’ll make the trade offs I was talking about previously, and the business is likely to suboptimize. Thirdly, that we should lead in such a way. So we’ll be conscious leaders that were servant leaders that were serving the higher purpose of the business. We’re serving.

[00:39:31] John Mackey: All the stakeholders. And that’s how our leaders should be. We’re not just trying to line our own pockets and make as much money as possible. And fourth, businesses should be create cultures that allow human beings to flourish. I do think that’s a, is one of the formulas for good success in, in business and life.

[00:39:46] John Mackey: We started our conversation off by talking about purpose and love, creating good places to work where people want to work and don’t want to leave. And that’s what conscious capitalism is. It’s a management philosophy of how to, how to operate a business in a more conscious way. 

[00:39:57] Mark Divine: We’re going to wrap up here pretty soon, but I wanted to go back to, you know, conscious capitalism, you know, presupposes that there’s consciousness involved, right?

[00:40:07] Mark Divine: And so clearly, you know, there’s a lot of talk about maybe consciousness being elevated or raised on this planet, you know, and this beyond the scope of my knowledge to know that for sure. But you know, how do, how does this relate to your ego death experience, entrepreneurs and executives, you know, participating in psychedelic experiences.

[00:40:27] Mark Divine: You know, an active attempt, which seems relatively new, I mean, you, you were on the bleeding edge of that, but now it’s becoming more mainstream to kind of elevate or experience more consciousness or, you know, whatever languaging we can put around that. What is your view on that? 

[00:40:41] John Mackey: It’s absolutely happening.

[00:40:43] John Mackey: I mean, we are evolving. Our species is evolving. We’re culturally evolving. Each generation has to start over again, but because the cultures are evolving. It’s been continually uplifted. It’s easier for the next generation. I know it’s possible because my whole book is a testament to my own evolution as a human being and my own spiritual growth.

[00:41:04] John Mackey: So it’s happened for me and there’s every reason to believe it can happen for anybody and everybody. So that’s one of the reasons I’m very optimistic, is that I do think, I think the consciousness of people is continuing to, to grow. And there’s every reason to think, if the anti capitalists don’t take over, there’s every reason to think that we’ll continue to create prosperity.

[00:41:24] John Mackey: And on that prosperity base, we’ll continue to have a consciousness and the cultures evolve to healthier, higher and healthier states. Surely, Mark, you see that in your own life, right? You’re not the same, same man you were 20 years ago. 

[00:41:36] Mark Divine: No, and I mean, let’s talk about your spiritual practice, like how do you maintain that momentum with your evolutionary impulse?

[00:41:44] John Mackey: First of all, every moment is an opportunity for learning and growth. So that’s the most important thing is. Listening, paying attention to what’s happening, getting out of your own defensive way, being open hearted, open to the moment and that’s what’s happening in the moment, and trying to extend love, goodwill, and good intent to other people.

[00:42:03] John Mackey: So you can do that every second you’re conscious and awake. But if you’re asking about like what are my practices that I do besides that one, hopefully every day, I start out my day, I arrange my lie, I get up very early, I’m going to wake up at 5, 530 thereabouts. I’m going to start out with a spiritual reading.

[00:42:20] John Mackey: And it takes me maybe 10 or 15 minutes of spiritual reading to kind of get my mind settled in on that. Then I’m going to do Gratitudes, five minutes or so. I find Gratitudes. Inherently expansive. You can’t do it as a ritual. You have to actually get into it and, and genuinely, yeah, you have to open your heart to it, right?

[00:42:39] John Mackey: Open your heart and feel it. And so it’s very expansive. If you, if you don’t do it ritualistically, then I, I might do a little affirmation in prayer after that. And then I do meditation. I trained in TEM, so I’ve been doing TEM. But I did have an interesting experience, which I talked about in the book, when I was doing a guided spiritual journey.

[00:42:58] John Mackey: I got a new mantra. 

[00:42:59] Mark Divine: Yeah, cool. 

[00:43:00] John Mackey: And the new mantra, which is what I do every day now, is I breathe in on I am. I am, and then I exhale love. I am love. I am love. And I’m just thinking about it all over and over and over again. It’s a, if you try it, it’s a very powerful mantra to use. And then after that, I usually then I’m going to do some kind of physical exercise.

[00:43:21] John Mackey: I’m either going to do yoga, go for a long walk or play pickleball. 

[00:43:25] Mark Divine: Nice. 

[00:43:26] John Mackey: Oh, and say sometimes Pilates too. And then after that, I start, I start my work day. 

[00:43:30] Mark Divine: That’s a great ritual. I know mine is not too dissimilar, but I love that. That’s awesome. So your book, is it out in the marketplace, the whole story?

[00:43:39] Mark Divine: Yes. 

[00:43:39] John Mackey: Pub day was May 21st. May 21st. So you can get it. Whole Foods is selling it in all the stores, almost every bookstores have it. Amazon has it. There’s also an Audible book. That’s available if you’d like to listen to it. You 

[00:43:50] Mark Divine: have a leg up for book sales there. 

[00:43:52] John Mackey: I won’t tell you the deal. I cut a win win deal with Whole Foods on the book.

[00:43:55] Mark Divine: Did you? Yes. Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you’d like to share about the book that people might learn from it or experience by reading it? 

[00:44:04] John Mackey: The book reads like a novel. We did not even put an index in the book. It’s non fiction, but it goes from one story to the next story to the next story.

[00:44:12] John Mackey: I tell the story of Whole Foods through stories. And with scene setting, dialogue, and conversations, I think the book reads, it’s 400 pages, but it reads really quickly. Most people get into it and they really don’t want to put it down. So there’s also a spiritual personal growth thread through the whole book.

[00:44:30] John Mackey: The first chapter is called The Game of Life, and the final chapter is called The Infinite Game. And I do believe that life itself is an infinite game, existence is an infinite game, and so on. Anybody that’s read that book has told me they love the book. It’s one of the best books One of the best business books I’ve ever read.

[00:44:48] John Mackey: I don’t want to toot my horn any more than that. 

[00:44:50] Mark Divine: It’s okay. The 

[00:44:51] John Mackey: one thing we haven’t talked about if we’re trying to wrap up here is, is I have retired from Whole Foods, but I’ve co founded a new business called Love Life. Love Life. Love. Life. Yes. But we pronounce it, just pronounce it Love Life. It’s Love.

[00:45:02] John Mackey: Life because that’s our URL. www. love. life, not love. life. com, love. life. And it’s a, think of it as we’ve got a telehealth business that we do in telehealth medicine in 50 states. We have an online coaching business that we’re coaching people with diabetes and for weight loss. We have a restaurant in Miami called Love Life Cafe, which is where we got our name from.

[00:45:28] John Mackey: And they were opening up our first flagship location in the L. A. area, in El Segundo, just a month out now, July 9th. We’ll be opening up, it’s an old Best Buy, it’s 45, 000 square feet, it’s going to have a healthy restaurant, it’s going to have a state of the art fitness center, it’s going to have the super cool spa, tons of recovery modalities, three pickleball courts, and a medical center.

[00:45:49] John Mackey: Frame it up this way, when do most people go see a doctor? 

[00:45:52] Mark Divine: Yeah, when they’re broken. 

[00:45:53] John Mackey: Yes, when they’re broken. Our strategy is to work with doctors and wellness coaches, get your baseline established through testing, develop precision individualized plans. for each member, and then their job is to help you become the healthiest version of yourself.

[00:46:08] Mark Divine: That’s awesome. 

[00:46:09] John Mackey: And, and, and not just physically, but also emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. We’ll be doing meditation classes, yoga, Pilates, and we’ll be doing breath work as well. 

[00:46:19] Mark Divine: Terrific. So. This be a membership based thing, or how? 

[00:46:22] John Mackey: The restaurant will be open to the public, but everything else will be strictly man.

[00:46:26] Mark Divine: That’s terrific. Absolutely necessary as the medical system and the insurance industry starts to collapse, which it’s doing right now. It’s 

[00:46:33] John Mackey: true. You’ve ever asked people a question, would they like to be a hundred? Most people say, if you ask them, they’ll say, most people think, no, I don’t want to be a hundred because anybody’s 

[00:46:41] Mark Divine: uncomfortable.

[00:46:41] John Mackey: Yes. But if you change that and say, would you like to be a hundred? If you still had the same sharpness of mind and you still were really felt really healthy and vital, would you want to be a hundred then? Everybody says, yeah, of course. But how can you do that? Well, that’s what love life’s aiming to do.

[00:46:57] Mark Divine: That’s terrific. I can’t wait to see that. That’s awesome, John, thanks so much for your time today. It’s been an honor having this conversation. Very, very enjoyable. Whole Story, your book, The Whole Story of Ventures in Love, Life, and Capitalism. That’s it. I’m going to check it out. Did you read the audio version? 

[00:47:55] John Mackey: I read the prologue in the audio version.

[00:47:58] Mark Divine: Okay. 

[00:47:58] John Mackey: And I liked it so much, I wish I’d read the whole book. 

[00:48:02] Mark Divine: But 

[00:48:02] John Mackey: the professional reader, Adam Barr, does a terrific job. I can’t do the accent. He has different voices for different characters. 

[00:48:09] Mark Divine: It makes sense to have a program. I can’t I 

[00:48:11] John Mackey: can’t do that. I’m 

[00:48:12] Mark Divine: also by the way into sci fi and I have my Preferred voice actor this guy named r.

[00:48:17] Mark Divine: c. Bray who just does incredible work. I don’t know if you ever come across him 

[00:48:21] John Mackey: I have it. What are a couple of sci fi books you write really write like 

[00:48:24] Mark Divine: expeditionary force ruins of the gala These are just fascinating books. You like the space operas. I like the space operas. I absolutely love them Did you ever read any orson scott card?

[00:48:34] Mark Divine: I don’t think so, no. Orson Scott Card? Yeah, check 

[00:48:38] John Mackey: out Ender’s Game, which is a Oh, 

[00:48:40] Mark Divine: Ender’s Game, yeah. Well, there’s a movie around that, was 

[00:48:43] John Mackey: that 

[00:48:43] Mark Divine: the same? 

[00:48:44] John Mackey: Yes, but the movie is 10 percent as good as the book. 

[00:48:47] Mark Divine: Is that right? I’ll check it out, I’ve been looking for the next thing. Well, 

[00:48:49] John Mackey: because of that SEALS background, the whole Ender series is about, they’re fighting an alien species called the Buggers.

[00:48:55] John Mackey: And it’s pretty interesting. 

[00:48:57] Mark Divine: Oh, I’m gonna have to check that out. That’s the only thing that I really listen to with audiobooks. And it just comes alive for me. It’s just awesome. 

[00:49:03] John Mackey: Me as well. Did you watch the recent show that called The Three Body Problem? 

[00:49:08] Mark Divine: I actually listened to the audiobook. I’m listening 

[00:49:11] John Mackey: to the first audiobook right now because I like, I like the show so much.

[00:49:14] Mark Divine: It’s funny that you said that because I started to watch the show and I think it’s very well done, but I actually like the audio book better. 

[00:49:22] John Mackey: Well, almost always the book’s going to be better than the show because it can go deeper into the characters. 

[00:49:27] Mark Divine: That’s right. Yeah. Awesome. John, again, thanks so much.

[00:49:30] Mark Divine: I really appreciate you. Is there any way So people besides the book and Love. life, do you have any other way that if someone wanted to reach out to you for something important for people to contact you or social media, anything like that? 

[00:49:40] John Mackey: I have all the social media handles. I am, I am John Mackey. You could also go to my website, which is johnpmackey.

[00:49:47] John Mackey: com. That’s the easiest one, johnpmackey. com. And then you can access all my social media from that. 

[00:49:54] Mark Divine: Thank you again, sir. Appreciate your time. Thanks, 

[00:49:55] John Mackey: Mark. I hope we get together in person sometime again.


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