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Ten years hence

John Mackey, Chairman and CEO of Whole Foods Market

March 26, 2010

John Mackey

John has devoted the better part of his 56 years to the seemingly friendly and peace-loving world of selling natural foods.  He has lived in a vegetarian co-op and studied yoga and meditation. He is a leading practitioner of empowerment management. Yet, as Chairman and CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc. he has built a $6 billion Fortune 500 company that is now one of the top 20 supermarket companies in America. He has out-maneuvered nearly every other entrant into the natural foods marketplace, eventually purchasing most of them. No wonder Business Week entitled its 1998 profile of Mackey: “Peace, love, and the bottom line.”

In 1978, at the age of 25, Mackey was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. Borrowing $10,000 from his father and raising the first few thousand of what would eventually become hundreds of millions of dollars in equity investments, he co-founded Safer Way Natural Foods with his girlfriend Renee Lawson. Two years later, in 1980, he and Renee teamed up with two other young entrepreneurs to create Whole Foods Market, a 10,000 square foot store on Lamar Boulevard in Austin. This store, one of the very first supermarket-style natural foods stores in the country, thrived. 

With his fierce sense of competition, strong belief in Libertarian and free market principles, staunch support for a decentralized and team-based structure, keen understanding of consumer trends and endless supply of innovative ideas, Mackey gradually built Whole Foods Market into a powerhouse. By the end of 2006, the global organic foods industry was more than $40 billion in size, a development Mackey sees as good for all concerned, especially Planet Earth. Whole Foods Market now has over 270 stores in the US, Canada, and the UK. 

He and his wife, Deborah, practice meditation and yoga, and spend as much time as they can on their 720 acre ranch west of Austin.  John reads voraciously, and participates in, sometimes, two monthly book clubs. He is always up for a lively debate about politics, economics, history or sports. John is an avid long-distance hiker and is currently hiking the Appalachian Trail, in four week segments, for the second time.

John’s most recent professional focus is re-invigorating Whole Foods Market’s emphasis on healthy eating and lifestyle choices. According to John, “many of our country’s most serious health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease can be lessened or eliminated by following some simple principles of healthy eating that include primarily plant-based, unprocessed whole foods and avoidance of all fats but those found naturally in plants, such as nuts and avocados.” An active promoter of a new business paradigm that he terms “Conscious Capitalism”, John is also co-founder of FLOW, non-profit think tank with the tagline Liberating the Entrepreneurial Spirit for Good.


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