John Mackey (excerpt): We need a different kind of leadership today in the world. The whole world’s crying out for a different kind of leadership: a different kind of leadership in the President, our political leaders, our business leaders, our nonprofit leaders. I would say that leadership is more conscious, it’s Purpose Driven, it’s not about self-aggrandizement, how much money can I make, how can I get more famous or more powerful. It should be leadership that’s basically in service – servant leadership – in service to the higher aims of the organization and the better good for everyone.
Paul Shapiro: Welcome to the Business for Good podcast!
Toni Okamoto: A show where we, Paul Shapiro and Toni Okamoto –
PS: Spotlight companies making money by helping solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.
TO: How many times have you heard people complain that business is the root of all evil? That our environmental and public health crises are basically all the fault of big bad corporations? If you want to do good in the world, go work in the charitable or public sector and don’t get corrupted by the world of capitalism.
PS: You don’t need to look at public opinion polls to know that big business isn’t exactly popular in America. John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, is one of the leading voices offering a differing perspective from that worldview by pioneering what he calls conscious capitalism, which we’ll let him define in the show, but suffice it to say that John is so into the idea that business can be a force for good in the world that he’s co-authored not one but two books on the topic. First in 2009, Be the Solution: How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve All the World’s Problems, and then in 2013, Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, a book that John knows had a big impact on me when I read it.
TO: And there’s a brand new book out that he didn’t author but that he did write the forward for called The Conscious Capitalism Field Guide: Tools for Transforming Your Organization. So without further ado, John, welcome to the Business for Good podcast.
John Mackey: Hi Paul, Hi Toni, thanks for inviting me on.
TO: So obviously you don’t think that all businesses do good in the world but you do think that many businesses do good and, in fact, that business has the greatest capacity to solve social problems. So John, what is conscious capitalism and how do you differentiate it from other types of capitalism?
JM: Before I get into defining conscious capitalism, let me make an even more radical statement: I think most businesses do good in the world. Business is the greatest value creator in the world. It creates far more value for people than all the nonprofits and all the governments combined. It’s demonstrable if you just see how far the world has come in the last 200 years. A book I highly recommend people read is Enlightenment Now, by Steven Pinker, which thoroughly documents the incredible progress the world has made, and business has played a leading role in that, along with science. So business doesn’t have to atone for itself.
I like to say that business does good but it could do better. It’s good, but we can make it a lot better. We can make it more conscious. We can consciously do good and make it less of a byproduct of voluntary exchange between people. It basically is: we’re more conscious, we can create organizations that help elevate humanity. That’s really the reason why we started conscious capitalism.
We define capitalism by its four pillars – four basic principles – the first one being that every business has the potential for a higher purpose beyond just making money. The standard stereotype of business is that it only cares about money; its purpose is to make money. If you were to go to a cocktail party and ask people what the purpose of business is, nine times out of ten they would say, ‘What do you mean?’ But if you think about it a little further that’s kind of an odd answer. Doctors make a lot of money, but that’s not their purpose. Doctors’ purpose is to heal people. Teachers educate. Architects design buildings. Engineers construct things. All the professions refer back to some type of value creation they’re doing in the world that makes the world a better place. Only business is put in this box – mostly by its enemies – as it’s all about the money, it’s greedy, it’s selfish, it’s exploitative, and capitalism is evil.
If you look historically, business has been attacked throughout the ages. The minorities that were good at business like the Jews in the West and the Chinese in the East have been routinely persecuted and run out of countries, their assets have been confiscated and they’ve had to go to different places to start over. The intellectuals have never liked commerce: they’ve always seen it is sort of lowly, something a common Tradesman does. The intellectuals haven’t liked business. The aristocrats haven’t liked it: it’s been seen as sort of dirty and not good. And yet it has been commerce that has helped lift humanity out of poverty, and that’s what’s happening right now.
If go back two hundred years ago, 85% of everyone alive lived in abject poverty at less than a dollar a day. Now we’re down to 12% of the population of the world lives on less than a dollar a day and we’re going to wipe out abject poverty in the next 50 years. It’s going to disappear on this planet provided, we continue to allow capitalism to work its magic.
So the first one is higher purpose. Business can have this higher purpose that goes beyond just making money. For example, Amazon’s higher purpose is to be the world’s most customer-centric company. Whole Foods’ higher purpose is to nurture people and the planet. Google’s higher purpose is to organize the world’s information and make it readily available and accessible. So probably the companies you most admire have some type of higher purpose. We see higher purpose very easily in the nonprofit sector. Every nonprofit articulates a purpose or mission it’s trying to accomplish. What’s less known is business also is created by entrepreneurs who have some kind of passion, some kind of dream they want to realize in the world, and that becomes the purpose of their business. Over time that purpose gets forgotten and I’d say the enemies of business stereotype it as all about the money.
So purpose is first. Second is stakeholders. A business is best seen as creating values for other businesses. That can be different from business-to-business but the most common collection of primary stakeholders would be the customers, the employees, the investors, the suppliers, the communities the business is a part of, and in a larger, macro sense, the larger environment which we’re all part of is also, I think, a stakeholder of business. Business tries to create value for each of these stakeholders and so it’s not just creating values for its investors or its shareholders, it’s creating value for its customers. It’s creating value, jobs, pay, opportunities for growth for its employees. Its suppliers are trading with their organization or business voluntarily: they’re getting value creation or they wouldn’t be making the trades. Communities are very dependent on business. It creates jobs; it creates tax revenues; it creates donations. We always hear the stories of the town where the factory fails and the town gets really poor.
Business is instrumental to helping communities prosper and flourish, so all the stakeholders matter and a conscious business – conscious capitalism – realizes that. It says, let’s create value consciously for each of these stakeholders, not sort of accidentally, but deliberately.
Third you have leadership. We need a different kind of leadership today in the world. The whole world’s crying out for a different kind of leadership: a different kind of leadership in the President, our political leaders, our business leaders, our nonprofit leaders. I would say that leadership is more conscious, it’s Purpose Driven, it’s not about self-aggrandizement, how much money can I make, how can I get more famous or more powerful. It should be leadership that’s basically in service – servant leadership – in service to the higher aims of the organization and the better good for everyone.
Then, finally, we need cultures in organizations, particularly our business organizations, our corporations, where we take love out of the closet, where it’s hidden away right now. Where we create companies that allow human beings to flourish to reach their highest potential to learn and grow. Where they don’t have to check their identities at the door when they come in only to regain it when they leave. We can create corporations that really allow human beings to self-actualize themselves and reach their highest potential.
Purpose. Stakeholders. Conscious leadership. Conscious culture. Those are the four pillars of conscious capitalism. And there’s a whole movement. We have a nonprofit organization with chapters all over the country. Conscious Capitalism has been translated into a dozen languages. It’s becoming a worldwide movement. It’s very exciting
PS: To be clear, John, you’re not talking about corporate social responsibility, or CSR, efforts that big brands use to improve their image. You’re talking about companies where the very act of them doing good in their business does some good in the world.
JM: Yes, that’s correct. However, I don’t want to just completely dismiss corporate social responsibility. The fact that corporations think it’s important to at least try to be more socially responsible means that they consider that a virtue and they want to have that type of reputation. That’s a good thing. Sometimes there may be corporate greenwashing, there may be hypocrisy behind that. I forget who said it, but hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue. As corporations begin to think being corporately-socially responsible is more important, you’ll see that become more important in corporations over time.
It’s often times reporting up through the marketing department and it’s inauthentic. It’s not in the the mission or purpose of the company. I think that’s the big difference between conscious capitalism and CSR.
Conscious capitalism puts that social responsibility in its higher purpose. It’s one of the reasons it exists – to do good in the world; to make the world a better place. Corporate social responsibility acknowledges that’s important, but it’s more like being grafted on. It’s not in the bones, it’s not in the roots of what the organization’s about. That’s the difference.
TO: So in addition to the ones you named like Google, Amazon, and Whole Foods, what are some examples of companies you think are practicing conscious capitalism, and how are they doing it?
JM: Most of the companies that are practicing conscious capitalism are not well known. And let me say that consciousness is on a continuum. It’s not like somebody’s conscious and somebody else isn’t conscious. Our whole lives we’re hopefully growing, evolving, becoming more conscious. I know I’m more conscious today than I was 5 years ago, and I hope I’m more conscious five years from today than I am today. I hope Whole Foods is a better company in five years than it is today.
So it’s not like it’s either or, you’re either conscious. or not conscious. There’s no perfect companies out there. Any company can be criticized, just like I’ve yet to meet the perfect person, I’ve yet to meet the perfect nonprofit, I haven’t met the perfect politician or the perfect doctor. And I think that sometimes business is held to an unfair standard of, if it’s not perfect, then it’s bad or evil. As long as we understand that we’re all attempting to evolve and become more conscious over time, including our organizations, we will have a better measurement stick
Instead of pointing out famous corporations, so many of the most conscious companies I run into are basically entrepreneurial companies that are younger, that are startups, that are getting it right from the very beginning. I could name many but you haven’t heard of them. You can just go onto our consciouscapitalism.org website and you can see a lot of players that are coming to our conferences, that are showing up, that are attempting to become more conscious
They’re every element of our economy from certain banks to the food industry, there’s a ton of it going on there. If you have somebody creating a farmers market, it might not be very big in some local town, but that can be a much more conscious business.
So I think we look for that consciousness and that it’ll be the generation of millennial entrepreneurs as they build these conscious businesses from scratch and as they scale over time that will create a much more conscious business world.
It’s much easier to start a conscious business than it is to convert an older business to become more conscious. Although what I see happening in a lot of cases is you get more visionary leadership coming into some of these mainstream companies like Indra Nooyi into Pepsi or Denise Morrison into Campbell Soup. And they’re beginning to change the cultures of those older and more traditional corporations.
PS: On a personal level, as a student you were this hippie who worked in a vegetarian co-op while studying both religion and philosophy in college. You didn’t take a single business class during your whole academic career, and you weren’t exactly the guy that many people would have placed money on to become a businessman, let alone one who’d eventually sell the grocery store he founded for 14 billion dollars. What happened? How did this vegetarian hippie go to becoming a business titan?
JM: Hahaha, well I’m not sure a “business titan” is the right word…
PS: I thought you would object to that, hahaha. I think many would say it though.
JM: I’ve recounted that story in some detail in another podcast. I think you can find that under Guy Roz’s podcast, the Whole Foods story. We don’t have time to do that today but, basically, I moved into this vegetarian co-op when I was, like, 23 years old. I was going to the University of Texas on that longer, you know, ‘6 year plan’ to try to get a degree, because I was basically just taking electives.
So I moved into that vegetarian co-op. I was not vegetarian when I moved in there, but I moved in, and I had my food consciousness awakened and became a vegetarian. I had never heard of the word vegan then, but I become a vegetarian. I learned how to cook. I got passionately interested in natural and organic foods. It was like I was on fire for it.
I went to work for a small natural food store in Austin called The Good Food Company and I had found my path. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was like, “This is so cool, I’m so interested in food, I’m so interested in everything about it.” And then there were the health aspects of it, and over time gradually my ethical consciousness was more and more awakened to what’s happening in food and how it’s injuring our planet, injuring animals, and how it needs to be reformed. And it became my life path.
I started this store. The first store was called Safer Way, and, honestly, it was the most idealistic store I could create. It was vegetarian. It didn’t sell any sugar. We didn’t sell any white flour; we didn’t sell any alcohol; we didn’t even sell any coffee or any caffeine. It was just really, really pure.
We had an office and we slept on a futon. We took showers in the Hobart dishwasher at night. We weren’t supposed to be living there, but that’s what we could afford. That was a romantic time, I suppose, as I look back on it, but after about two years, Safer Way was losing money. It wasn’t making any money, it was too pure. It was way ahead of where the market was. There just weren’t enough vegetarians in Austin who didn’t consume sugar or coffee or alcohol and our competitors all had those products. So we decided you know what, if we’re not going to go out of business… We relocated, went to a bigger store, merged with another store, and changed the name to Whole Foods Market because we didn’t want their name and they didn’t want our name. And we loosened up. We began to sell coffee and beer and wine and white flour and sugar and some animal foods, as well – although I’m still a vegetarian. We began to try to sell the foods that we thought our customers really wanted to buy while keeping the natural, organic, high quality standards, no artificial flavorings, colorings, or preservatives.
That seemed to be the sweet spot back in 1980 because that store exploded within just a few months to become the highest-volume natural foods store in the United States.
We had a flood 9 months after we opened, which has been well-documented and talked about, and that’s forced us to do a second store, and then a second store led to a third Store, and eventually we raised venture capital money, and eventually went public, and we just kept growing the business because it’s what the market wanted. The time had come for a natural foods supermarket that sold really healthy food to people.
TO: For anyone who’s interested in the longer version of that story, I loved hearing it in Conscious Capitalism, so I’ll put that in the show notes as well.
It’s now been a year since you sold Whole Foods to Amazon. As a consumer, one thing I’ve noticed is lower prices, which is definitely important to me, but from the CEO’s perspective, how’s the new marriage going?
JM: The marriage has been going great. You should completely disregard everything you read in the paper about it because Whole Foods never talks about the merger to the media, and neither does Amazon. It’s always frustrating to me when I read these things about how team members are upset or suppliers are upset, it’s stuff that’s just gossip, they’re making it up. They’re talking to people who have left the company and are angry about one thing or another, but there’s been no systematic investigation because they’re incapable of doing it. They don’t have access.
There’s a market for people wanting to believe the merger is not going well and so that’s why the media keeps writing about it, because they get click-throughs on it. In fact, the marriage is going extremely well.
Marriage is the metaphor we use internally at Whole Foods to get people to understand it because we understand things through metaphors. Marriage is a pretty good metaphor for this merger because it’s a conscious merger. We’ve gone into it with our eyes wide open. I tell the story about how when I first met with Jeff Bezos and his team, it was kind of love at first sight. We really connected, really clicked. Their passion towards customers, their passion towards creating the long-term, really synced up well with Whole Foods. Their creativity. Their innovation. These are things that Whole Foods also values.
And we just started talking about the things we could do together and the things we could do to recreate the food system over time. And it was like, “Oh my God, this is it for Whole Foods: this is where we need to go next. This is how we will best fulfill our highest purpose: in partnership in Amazon.
We were under pressure from shareholder activists. I was very concerned that the company was going to be forcefully sold to another supermarket chain that would not get us at all. It would ruin our culture, ruin our values. Amazon was clearly the best partner for us, so we kind of fell in love with them. Like a marriage, we had a whirlwind romance, and six weeks after that first meeting we were engaged,, meaning we’d signed a merger agreement and two months after that, we consummated the marriage, which we completed on August 28, 2017.
Since then, it’s been like a marriage. In my experience in a merger, Whole Foods has bought 23 other companies, so I’ve been on the other side of it quite a few times. So you know each other for six weeks, and we had chaperones, we couldn’t really talk too much about strategy and things like that, that was forbidden by the government. So a lot of it’s been getting to know each other after we got married and it’s like any relationship if it’s going to be a healthy one. There’s kind of a – there’s a me, these are things that are important to us – there’s a you, these are the things are important to you and then there’s the we, the shared self that we’re creating together. Amazon has been very respectful of Whole Foods Market’s purpose, our values, and what we’re trying to create in the world. In a lot of ways, they’re just helping us to be better, and at the same time, Whole Foods is learning a lot from Amazon.
I’ve learned more in the last ten months since this deal went through than I have in the last several years combined. It’s been a very rapid learning curve and very exciting for me. I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and to learn so many new things in the first year is incredibly exciting for me.
But it’s like any relationship. I mean, do I absolutely love everything about Amazon? I don’t. I don’t love everything about them. I don’t love everything about my wife. I love about 98%, but there’s like 2% that kind of bugs me, and there are differences. That’s what people tend to focus on, are the differences, but the dominant narrative is that this is a really good marriage, a really good merger. Basically on all the most important things, we’re syncing up very well.
And the things that we have differences about, we discuss them. Whole Foods pushes back when it’s necessary and important to do so. Amazon’s been very has been good listeners and they’ve given us the space we need to stay who we are. So all in all honestly I couldn’t be happier. Sales are way up. It’s been really good.
With the price cuts, we knew we needed to cut our prices at WF, but as a public company, when you cut prices, initially your sales go down, because you’re if you’re selling something for a dollar and you cut it to 90 cents, well, now you’re only getting 90 cents of sales versus a dollar. As a public company, every quarter we had to meet earnings expectations. We couldn’t take the long-term view, we were kind of in a trap.
Amazon helped us out of that trap by letting us think long term again. So we’ve had a couple of rounds of price cuts. The Amazon credit card gives people 5% off when they shop at Whole Foods. Now Amazon Prime members are getting really, really good deals. So we’re doing a lot to throw away the whole paycheck narrative. And if the last thing I do at WF is dump that narrative, I will consider it a successful career. So they’ll be other price reductions as we go along. And that’s one of the things I love about Amazon. They’re helping us get better, they’re helping us lower our prices, are helping us be a much better company. They’re helping us fulfill our highest purpose.
TO: That’s something I very much appreciate, and I think my audience at Plant-Based on a Budget really appreciates. I go in there and I show how cheap those bananas are, really great prices.
About a decade ago you decided to stop taking a paycheck from Whole Foods and to donate your stock portfolio. Why did you feel that was important at the time, and do you ever have regrets about it? Do you ever think, I could have had more cash to engage in personal philanthropy and impact investing?
JM: It’s kind of hard to understand and to really explain it. I’ll just say that I’m a guy who’s always been about following my heart, following my passion, following my higher purpose. That’s been my strategy in life and It’s worked really, really well. Back in 2006, I just knew the right thing for me to do was to stop taking compensation so that everybody could clearly see that it wasn’t about the money for me. It was about the higher purpose. I donated stock options I would have received to the Whole Foods Market foundation. I had enough money. One of the important things to know in life which many people never figure out is how much is enough. I have enough and I have enough for myself, my wife, my friends, my family. I have enough to be philanthropic. Could I have been richer? Yeah, I could have been a lot richer. But so what, I’m plenty rich, and I have enough.
In terms of, I’d have more to give away, all I can say is, that’s true, but it was the right thing for me to do, and I don’t have any regrets about it. It was the right decision and it is still the right decision.
PS: I know you said that there are some topics that you don’t discuss publicly, like GMOs, for example, but I don’t think that one of those topics is labor. You’ve made it clear that you’re not exactly a fan of unions, but still, Whole Foods has year after year been rated as one of the best places to work. Why is that? And do you think that the idea of all unions, including company unions, as opposed to general labor unions, is a bad one?
JM: Well, first of all, company unions are illegal in the United States. You have to have third-party representation or it’s considered illegal. The United States is one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t allow company unions.
PS: For listeners who aren’t familiar, what’s the difference between a company union and a traditional labor union in the US?
JM: A company union would be, say, the company and the employees together create a union and together they work out these issues and problems. So that is illegal, it can’t be called a union in the United States. What you only can do in the United States if you want to have a union is you have to have third-party representation. So somebody from the outside, like the Teamsters or United Food and Commercial Workers or some other type of union, will come in and represent the employees in their negotiations with the company so that it creates this third party which oftentimes creates an adversarial relationship.
I don’t have anything against unions. The unions keep saying I’m anti-union, but I’m not really anti-union. I believe in freedom. If people want to have a labor union, then they can have one, that’s their choice, it’s legally protected in the United States. Do I think that that would be the best thing for Whole Foods? No. Do I really want our team members to do that? No, that would mean that they feel deeply alienated from our company and don’t trust us enough to be able to work out our problems together. But sometimes unions are necessary. Unions have played an important historical role. I’m not against unions. I want to get that clear because that keeps getting repeated, so that’s become the narrative even though I keep on denying it.
PS: OK, thanks for clearing it up here. So to the point of Whole Foods being named one of the best places to work, what is it that you attribute that to? What are the policies that that you think make it one of the best places to work?
JM: I don’t think that’s a simple answer that you can sum up in a sentence or two or sound bite because cultures are rich. One thing I would say is that I talked about stakeholders. Whole Foods Market tries to create value for all its stakeholders. So one of the esven core values at Whole Foods Market is we create team member happiness and growth. We want our team members to be happy. We believe if our team members are happy, they’re going to give better service to our customers, and that’s going to result in the business flourishing and prospering. That’s very important to us. That’s always been important to Whole Foods. We create a culture where we want our team members to be happy. We work at it, we measure it. You can’t make everybody happy, people to some extent have to choose it. But we can create the conditions that allow human beings to flourish.
Part of that is letting people be more authentic and be themselves when they’re at work. Whole Foods is never about personal appearance. We were started by a bunch of hippies, so we’re very tolerant of dress or piercings or tattoos or whatever people wear. It’s their own identity. We don’t care about those things, we just really believe in that individual liberty for people to be themselves, and that’s always been magnetic for many team members.
We don’t try to basically create a culture where we’re ordering everybody around. We have a culture of empowerment. We’re organized into teams. We think people have a strong tribal need to be part of tribes so we create that type of feeling in our stores. We don’t try to manage their fear. People oftentimes say it feels really good when they come into the stores. There’s a lot of reasons that feeling good is there but one of them is that our team members fundamentally aren’t afraid all the time.
I think those are some of the things we do. And we’re also a mission-driven, purpose driven company. And many team members who come to work for us identify with our food mission in that we attract people who are into natural foods. We attract foodies, we attract vegans, we attract people that are just totally into food. They flourish in a company that’s very much into food.
TO: Whole Foods has a lot of unconventional policies, from having department members vote on whether they want to keep you hired after an initial probation period, capping the executive to low-level employee pay ratio, and more. Perhaps one of the most interesting policies is your belief in salary transparency, that every employee can look up how much every other employee makes. What do you think the benefit is of that? And do you recommend that for other companies, especially others that haven’t practiced salary transparency in the past?
JM: Do I recommend it? I don’t know. Every culture, every company, every organization, has to figure out what’s best for them. I wish more people would experiment with it.
You have to understand that one of the most powerful human emotions that is just there, it’s in our in our DNA, it’s in our nature, but it’s just such an ugly emotion that it basically goes into disguise, and that emotion is envy. A lot of the people that are fighting for justice or are righteously indignant about inequality, a lot of that – not all of it, but some of it – is driven by envy. Envy is endemic in any type of tribal configuration. Any type of organization has to deal with envy. It’s so powerful because people compare their own place in the hierarchy, their own compensation, their own benefit package. If somebody’s getting a better deal, and they don’t think they deserve it, then they don’t think that’s fair. That sense of fairness is very, very important. One of the big advantages of having transparency and wages is that – you don’t eliminate envy – but you show people in a transparent way what somebody else is getting paid. Most of the time people suspect wrongly that everybody’s making more money than they are or that somehow or another the whole thing is unfair and unjust.
But by being transparent about it, you see what type of jobs are the highest paid in an organization, what people should be striving for if they want to move up, and if they want to take more responsibility and get promoted, what they can expect to get paid.
It also shows that generally in a team there’s very little difference in the pay, it’s mostly based on how long you’ve worked there. And then team leaders are going to make more, store team leaders are going to make more than that, and so there’s a certain rationale in the hierarchy.
think by having that transparency, it gives comfort that overall the compensation system in Whole Foods Market is fair and it’s relatively egalitarian. We also cap it at 19 times the average pay, so that has been a deep part of our culture for a long time, and that’s why we do it and we’ve done it since almost the beginning so it wasn’t something we had to to evolve into. Is that the right thing for other companies to do? I don’t know, can’t say for others, just what worked best for Whole Foods.
PS: John, in thinking about aspiring entrepreneurs who might be listening, a lot of them are excited about the explosion of venture capital funds that are willing to invest in first-time businesspeople now. It’s very different from when you started Whole Foods, the amount of venture capital money there is available for first-time entrepreneurs. You’ve joked before that venture capitalists are kind of like hitchhikers. Do you want to elaborate on that – what do you mean by calling them hitchhikers?
JM: I think it’s a pretty good metaphor – hitchhikers with credit cards.
They jump in the car and, as long as you take them where they want to get to, they have an exit. They don’t want to stay in your company forever. They’re willing to invest and they’re going to hitchhike along as you grow as an organization. They’re going to go along for the ride as long as you take them to where they want to get to. They help pay for the gas, they provide the gas money that you need to grow as an organization. However, if you wander off, if you get a little lost, if you don’t get them to where they want to get to, they hijack the car and throw you out on the side of the road and hire a new driver. That’s why I think it’s a good metaphor. As long as you understand these aren’t your friends: they are hitchhikers – they’ll help you get to where you want to get to and you can help them get to where they want to get to.
And that’s the way it was with Whole Foods. Our hitchhikers, our venture capitalists, got to where they wanted to go to, and we went public, and they had their exit and made a lot of money and they were very happy about it. But if we hadn’t been able to do that, then they probably [inaudible @ 36:55] take over Whole Foods.
PS: For a lot of folks listening who might be inspired either to start their own consciously capitalistic company or join one or maybe even help their current employer aspire to a higher purpose, you may not have taken any business classes, John, but you’ve run a multibillion-dollar business for decades. I’ve heard you say before that you’ve read something like a thousand books on business. For anybody listening who wants to get more involved, what resources, books or otherwise, would you recommend to people who want to use business to do good in the world?
JM: I don’t know if I’ve read a thousand books. I haven’t counted, but I’ve certainly read several hundred books over the years for sure about business. It’s like when you get interested in something, like when I got interested in food when I moved into that co-op, I just devoured information. I just have a hunger for knowledge. I want to understand how things work.
Since I didn’t have any business background and didn’t take any business courses, I just started reading everything I could find, but a lot of the books that I read in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s are way out of date now, and I don’t read as many business books as I used to.
But I’ll recommend one particularly for entrepreneurs because it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read and I just read it a couple of years ago. It’s Phil Knight’s, the founder of Nike, kind of his memoirs, it’s called Shoe Dog. It is a tremendously great read and it just tells mostly about the early days of Nike and how he did it on a shoestring, how he held onto ownership, how the Japanese screwed him, and that’s how he ended up changing his company from just selling Tigers to make a totally different brand. He changed the name to Nike and built one of the greatest brands in the world today. It’s a great story.
I do like reading books about entrepreneurs. A recent book I just read is Upstarts, by Brad Stone, which is a about Airbnb and Uber, how those sharing economy businesses got there. I read everything by Peter Drucker in my formative years, that was very important. I just go to the bookstore, and if there are business books, I buy them, I read them, and so many of them have taught me a few things. Ultimately, reading books about Amazon or Google can be very inspiring. Also I recommend reading Warren Buffett. His biography, Snowball, is a tremendously good read and you’ll learn a lot about business by just reading about how Buffett thinks about it.
I’ll pitch Enlightenment Now, by Steven Pinker, again, because that’s the book I just finished reading and it shows the great progress the world is making. There’s such a doom and gloom narrative out there but, in truth, this is the best time there’s ever been in the history of humanity to be alive. In millennials, there’s such a fear that the world’s getting worse, but it’s not, it’s getting better, and people need to know that. There’s real reason to be optimistic and not in despair.
PS: Let me ask you one quick question as we’re reaching the end. It does seem pretty indisputable to me that it may be the best time to be a human in the history of humanity today – for a lot of people, at least – but do you think that’s true for animals in in terms of the world becoming a better place?
JM: No, I don’t. It’s not the best time to be an animal, that’s for sure. Paul, this is something you and I obviously have a great passion we share together. I’m deeply disturbed. I always find it ironic that so many people today condemn the Founding Fathers for being slaveholders, or they look back on the past with judgment because the consciousness was different a hundred years ago or two hundred years ago than it is today. It’s easy to feel sort of like those people were so awful, but what they don’t realize is that people are going to look back on this era today – and probably less than a hundred years, in 50 years – and they’re going to be horrified, absolutely horrified, with how animals are treated, animals of all types. Animals have been completely exploited, particularly livestock animals. We slaughter almost 10 billions animals a year for food and 99% of them have terrible lives in factory farms. It is a real ethical failing. But it’s easier to see the flaws of the past than to see the flaws today.
So, no, it’s not the best time to be an animal except that we are waking up, we’re becoming more conscious, we’re beginning to make changes, and that’s why i think in 50 years that it’s going to be a lot better for animals than it is today.
TO: Finally, John, in Conscious Capitalism you recommend keeping a gratitude journal where you can write down a few things for which you’re grateful at the end of each day. Do you want to close us out here and offer a few things for which you are grateful?
JM: Sure. First of all, I’m just grateful to be alive. I mean, it’s extraordinarily amazing to be a living being, to have a body, to have senses. To be able to move in this universe is so amazing. It’s incredible. And to just be able to walk around and to move in it, to smell it, to taste it, to feel it, to see, to love… I’m so grateful just to be alive.
I’m grateful for how fortunate I am I have I have good health. I have people I love. I’m in a committed marriage for 28 years. I love so many people. I’m so grateful to have been privileged to build Whole Foods because some of the people I love most in the world have shared that journey with me for decades and decades now.
And I’m so grateful to have friends and for the kindnesses people do for me. I’m so grateful that I’ve had a chance to be able to serve and help other people .
So, hey, those are some of the things that popped into my brain, but they pop into my brain regularly.
PS: Folks, there you have it. John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, on what he’s grateful for, on venture capitalism, labor unions, Amazon, and, of course, how to do good in the world via business. John, thanks so much for coming on to Business for Good. We are truly grateful for your time.
JM: Thanks, Paul, thanks, Toni! Hope you guys have a wonderful day.
TO: Thank you! You, too.
All right, folks, thanks so much for listening to the show.
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