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OUTSTANDING IN HIS FIELD During his years at Whole Foods, Mackey has gone from hippie to Libertarian, from crunchy shopkeeper to CEO of an $8 billion retail beast. | Photograph Courtesy of Whole Foods Market

John Mackey's Whole Foods Vision to Reshape Capitalism

John Mackey, the Libertarian CEO of Whole Foods, says not to worry: Capitalism and the invisible hand will cure the world's ills. But isn't it a little late to start believing in magic?

Just to be clear, John Mackey isn't Moses. "It's not like you go up to the mountaintop and God talks to you: Here is your purpose — execute," he says.

"It is something you discover and also create." Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, is riffing on the gospel of what he calls Conscious Capitalism. It has been a brutal couple of months for Mackey, who simultaneously became both the punching bag of the progressives and the poster boy of the right wing late last summer, after writing an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that railed against a government health-care option. Liberal Whole Foods customers organized nationwide boycotts, while self-described "radical conservative" Tea Party types rallied around Mackey, calling for Whole Foods "buycotts." Now, sitting in a soulless beige conference room in Whole Foods' Austin headquarters, with Mount Bonnell looming beyond the window and two protective publicists at his side, Mackey finally starts to relax.

"You see, Conscious Capitalism is a fairly new idea, but it's going to have a huge impact," he begins, describing the philosophy he developed as he built his tiny natural-foods store into an $8 billion retail beast. "I do believe it will become the dominant paradigm of business in the 21st century." Conscious Capitalism, Mackey insists, moves corporations to refocus on purpose instead of profit. In theory, it underscores the importance of all of a company's interdependent "stakeholders": employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers, community, and the environment. When all of those constituencies' interests are factored into the company's decisions and aligned, his thinking goes, all — including, not incidentally, the bottom line — will flourish.

Two years ago, Mackey began rolling out his Catalyzing Conscious Capitalism Summit, which he will be expanding to Europe and India next year. He's building a Conscious Capitalism Alliance to help formalize the enthusiasm and sells a two-and-a-half-hour audio series that lays out the blueprint for aspiring Conscious Capitalist companies (he has trademarked the phrase). Mackey, 56, has also hit the road, visiting more than two dozen universities to inspire the next generation with his seductive message.

It would simplify things if Mackey's theory proved true. "Businesses that are more conscious of making a positive difference in the world make the world a better place from just being there," says Mackey, whose office sits next to the Austin store, an 80,000-square-foot altar to wholesomeness. "That all results in higher profit and higher return on capital. There are no losers." That sounds mighty appealing. But haven't we been down this road?

The rise of Whole Foods Market reads like creation myth at this point. It was Austin in the late 1970s, and Mackey, the shaggy-haired college dropout, wanted to meet some "interesting women"; so he moved into a vegetarian co-op popular with the ladies. He got a job at a natural-foods store, realized retail was a pretty simple game, and resolved that he and his new girlfriend (scored, of course, at the co-op) would open their own natural-foods store and café in an old Victorian house. "I was 24 years old. I started out wanting to have a company that had good healthy food and to earn a living," says Mackey, in a lulling Texas cadence. "Did I start out wanting to change the world or change people? Of course not, it would take a total megalomaniac to do that."

Since his teens, Mackey had been on a quest for meaning and purpose. During his college years — all seven of them — the philosophy and religion major was your typical lefty. "Both business and capitalism were based on exploitation of consumers, workers, society, and the environment," he wrote in 2009's Be the Solution: How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve All the World's Problems, describing his early "crunchy granola" political views. "I believed that 'profit' was a necessary evil at best and certainly not a desirable goal for society as a whole." However, once Mackey started running his own company, he quickly found himself on the dark side: His customers thought his prices were too expensive; employees complained of being underpaid; and the government "was slapping us with endless fees, licenses, fines, and taxes." "According to the perspective of the political left," he wrote, "I had become a greedy and selfish businessman."

The identity crisis sent him into an existential tailspin. Then Mackey, the son of an accounting professor, discovered the writings of Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand, the high priest and priestess of modern free-market capitalism. He slipped on the Libertarian mantle. "What I love most about the freedom movement, another name for the Libertarian platform," writes Mackey, "are the ideas of voluntary cooperation and spontaneous order that, when channeled through free markets, lead to the continuous evolution and progress of humanity." The beauty of Conscious Capitalism, says Mackey, is that self-interest and altruism can not only coexist, they can both thrive simultaneously without a lot of government meddling. "One of the things that I'm trying to philosophically just destroy," Mackey told Time magazine last year, "is this bifurcation that human beings are either greedy, selfish, only in it for themselves — or they're saints."

These days, Mackey finds himself in the role of accidental prophet. "Pioneers are the ones who have to hack through a jungle and create a road," he tells me, offering an allegory for his Conscious Capitalist quest. "The only thing that frustrates me sometimes," he adds, "is that I feel like I've been hacking away with a machete in the jungle for the last 30 years, and sometimes people come up and say, 'Man, this is as far as you've gotten? You should have done more.' "

But the way Mackey sees it, Whole Foods has already left the world in better shape than he found it. "If I get run over by a truck later today, I will have already in my life made a difference in helping many people," he says. "Customers are better off because millions of people are eating in a way they never would have had we never existed. Our team members are better off because we've created a company that's a great place to work. Our suppliers have flourished along with Whole Foods and have made a lot of money from their association with us. And our investors have made a ton of money."

For those companies aspiring to become Conscious Capitalists, Mackey says there are four ways to get there. They can pursue one of four ideals — the good, the true, the beautiful, or the heroic — or any of them in combination. "Plato said the good, the true, and the beautiful, and I added on the heroic," he allows. Indeed, Mackey has always considered himself a philosopher in the making, once telling Time that if his ex-girlfriend had never persuaded him to launch Whole Foods, "I'd probably be in an attic somewhere scribbling off insane philosophies that nobody reads." The pursuit of any of these shiny goals, he says — harmonized with the needs of all a company's many stakeholders — will deliver the enterprise to a Conscious Capitalist state of perfection.

Yet Mackey's interpretation of what constitutes higher purpose can be perplexing. He singles out Nordstrom and Southwest Airlines (for their deeper pursuit of great customer service, or "the good") and Four Seasons Hotels and Berkshire Hathaway (for their obsession with perfection, "the beautiful") as examples of companies that have attained an ideal state. "Do you know what Southwest Airlines' stock symbol is?" Mackey asks me, busting to spill the punch line. "It's L-U-V, love! Think about the businesses you most admire in the world. You'll find almost all of them are pursuing one of those deeper passions."

Another of Mackey's Conscious Capitalist exemplars is the Container Store. "Our purpose is to organize people's lives to save them space and time. There's a certain Zen quality to being organized," says Kip Tindell, CEO and cofounder, noting that the company's other deeper purpose is "to be the best retail store in America." Ever since Mackey turned Tindell on to the Conscious Capitalism model, the purveyor of plastic tubs says he's seen the light. "Capitalism has a bad public image," Tindell says. "Socialism doesn't work, communism doesn't work — this [capitalism] is the winner. It just needs to be modified a bit, practiced in a way that isn't so mercenary."

Tindell, says Mackey, is a pursuer of the good. And indeed, the Container Store pays its employees very well — some 50% above industry average. But he doesn't seem overly concerned with the "holistic" attention to all stakeholders that purports to be at the center of Conscious Capitalism. When I ask Tindell what he meant by the Container Store being a "sustainable business," he replies, "The business will endure long after I'm gone." The retailer's obligation to the earth — arguably a critical stakeholder — consists of little more than a corporate-recycling program. Meanwhile, the environmental policy on the company's Web site borders on parody: "A commitment to sustainability includes having salespeople who anticipate customers' needs so they get everything they need in a single trip to the store." At the same time, Tindell (who recently joined Whole Foods' board and is hosting a Conscious Capitalism Summit next year) is not shy about the financial rewards of his message: "We're not just a couple of altruistic guys espousing nice views; this stuff really works. If all you wanted to do was make as much money as possible, as fast as possible, this is the way to do that."

In Mackey's eyes, Whole Foods itself pursues both the good and the heroic. And the nation's largest seller of natural and organic foods does boast many noble practices: Nonexecutive employees hold 96% of the company's stock options; 5% of the company's after-tax profits are given to charity every year; no executive can make more than 19 times the employee average; and after much criticism from activists, it has shunned purchasing meat from factory farms. "The rule is not conflict of interests — it's harmony of interests," says Mackey, who reduced his salary to a dollar in 2007 (he still owns about $36 million in stock). "The leader needs to manage the enterprise in a way that you're creating synergies rather than trade-offs — that's the art of conscious leadership."

But Whole Foods is itself a study in compromise. "The only thing in the human body that grows just for growth's sake is cancer," Mackey tells me. "I think sometimes businesses do that because they get drunk off bigger market share or more power and bigger perks and bigger egos, and I don't think all of that scale growth is always healthy." In fact, Whole Foods' own astronomical growth — virtually doubling in size every four years through aggressive acquisitions of 19 of its competitors — has entailed social and environmental trade-offs. Most of its produce is purchased from agribusiness giants instead of local producers, often flown in from other continents. Its 40,000-square-foot stores — all of which are nonunion, thanks in part to Mackey's personal efforts — are the Hummers of retail. Last year, Ceres, a green-investment watchdog, ranked the chain's environmental record among the lowest of all corporations. As Michael Pollan explains in The Omnivore's Dilemma, Mackey's paradox is similar to Wal-Mart's: In order to heal the planet without sacrificing profit, he'll need to continue to tax it with more, still-bigger stores.

Even Whole Foods' "healthy food" roots seem to have suffered for the sake of the bottom line. This summer, Mackey conceded to The Wall Street Journal that Whole Foods sells "a bunch of junk." His reasoning for why the company has drifted? "As we've gotten larger," he told the Journal, "we've tapped a middle-class customer, and this is what they're buying. They're voting for it." So while he may be feeding the cravings of one stakeholder — his customer — and thus his shareholders, he seems to be doing so at the expense of the company's healthy-foods mission. Rather than risk hurting his business by banning frozen turkey corn dogs or natural grilled cheese puffs, his solution is to offer healthy-eating clubs.

"[Mackey] has principles, but within that there's a lot of latitude," says Samuel Fromartz, author of Organic, Inc. "I remember one annual meeting where somebody asked Mackey, 'If you're a vegan, why are you selling meat? Why not become a vegan grocery store?' He said, 'I'm a vegan, but out of curiosity, how many people here are vegans?' It was a shareholder meeting; less than 10 hands went up. The implication was, You can't build a business out of that."

"This is all wonderful on paper," says Allen White, vice president of the Tellus Institute, a sustainability think tank. "The question is durability. If you say yes, yes, yes to all [stakeholder] pillars and then find yourself with Wall Street watching your every move and unloading shares when earnings are two cents less than you said they might be, how will those pillars stand up against that kind of pressure? That's the question Whole Foods is facing."

When Mackey was 29, some four years after his Randian rebirth, he was doing "connective breathing" exercises with his therapist and had a rebirth of another sort. "The experience of being in the birth canal," Mackey recalls on his Conscious Capitalism audio set, "was a spiritual awakening for me." He had been an atheist for years, but after his retro journey in therapy, he soon discovered "A Course in Miracles," a New Age guide to enlightenment and inner peace channeled from Jesus via a Columbia psych professor in the 1970s. He has been a devout practitioner ever since. "If we become more skilled at accessing that higher intelligence," continues Mackey, who credits his own "wisdom" to a higher source, "that's going to accelerate the evolution of humanity, and that's what's going to get us out of most of these problems that we're in."

Mackey's longtime colleague Jeffrey Hollender is less willing to rely on faith. Hollender was CEO of natural-cleaning products company Seventh Generation for the past two decades and remains co-chairman; his company likely owes its existence to Whole Foods. "Around 10 years ago, Whole Foods started building these big stores, but it didn't have enough to sell — and we had, like, an aisle of product," says Hollender. "I give them a huge amount of credit in our success."

But Seventh Generation's connection to Whole Foods was hardly a free pass. During all the years Hollender ran the company, he wrestled with what he sees as the often-conflicting motives inherent in running a cause-driven business. "This company lost money for 13 years," says Hollender, who has just returned from giving a fiery lecture at the University of Vermont. "Part of the problem was I just wasn't that focused on making money; I was focused on the mission of what we were doing."

Hollender says capitalism itself needs a bit of a rebirth, one that puts sustainability at the center. But unlike Mackey, he's calling for a radical regulatory overhaul in almost every area of our economic system, from taxing short-term capital gains to instituting full-cost accounting. "Almost every day, I ask myself, Am I devoting myself to the right thing that will make the biggest difference?" he says.

As Mackey did with organics, Hollender succeeded in changing his industry, remaking the notoriously toxic and wasteful cleaning-products industry by creating a new, environmentally "less bad" category. Over the past several years, consumer giants such as Clorox and SC Johnson have poured $700 million into the space. But Seventh Generation has continued to struggle. Today, the company, which went public in 1993 but went private again in 1999, only takes investment from "values aligned" institutional investors. "It has slowed us down," concedes Hollender. "But in the long run, we'll never fulfill our mission if we don't do that."

Hollender realizes that respect and power can be a by-product of size. "Growth buys you credibility and attention," he says. With that in mind, he stepped down as CEO of Seventh Generation last June, passing the reins to Chuck Maniscalco, the former president and CEO of PepsiCo's Quaker, Tropicana, and Gatorade business. Hollender has now charged Maniscalco with doing what he could not: building his $150 million company into a billion-dollar operation.

The question facing Seventh Generation is whether it can reach that level without resorting to the sorts of compromises Mackey has been willing to make. And the history of sustainable business trying to expand is littered with more tragedies than triumphs. Most green pioneers, such as Ben & Jerry's and the Body Shop, were swallowed by multinationals and saw their values subsumed by commercialism. Others, including Stonyfield Farm and Honest Tea, got slightly smarter, selling off only stakes in their companies to multinationals. Nevertheless, says the Tellus Institute's White, "the history of these firms is a little bit dark."

Which is why Hollender is trying to break that pattern by certifying Seventh Generation as a B Corporation, a new type of for-profit corporate status (think Fair Trade for companies) that legally obligates companies to consider factors other than just earnings in their decision making. "Corporate law in the U.S. says your job is to maximize return for your shareholders," explains Jay Coen Gilbert, cofounder of B Lab, the nonprofit that created the B Corporation status. "So that's what you're legally bound to do. If you don't, you can get sued." Unless, that is, shareholders also have explicitly endorsed that larger purpose.

B Corporations institutionalize values into the fabric of a company, legally requiring it to practice the stakeholder model. For sustainability to scale, says Gilbert, there need to be "clear standards, not just nice stories." Once a company is certified as a B Corporation, its board commits to considering environmental and social factors every time it makes a decision and has to hit specific social and environmental performance targets.

Because corporate law is determined at the state level, there are still 19 states where B Corporations don't yet have legal protection, including corporate havens like Delaware. There are campaigns under way in at least five states to change that, but B Lab has still managed to certify 230 companies across 50 industries, representing more than $1 billion in revenue. Its goal is a new generation of Fortune 500 companies with this novel legal structure built into their DNA. "There are some things that should be off the table for discussion," says Hollender.

But the reality is that so far most B Corporations are little green companies. For emerging models like this (and there are several, including an effort called Corporation 20/20 that the Tellus Institute's White is heading) to have serious impact, companies still need to become large enough to exert pressure in the marketplace. As Gilbert explains, "The odds that an existing public company like Whole Foods with a large amount of disembodied third-party institutional investors is going to vote to expand its corporate responsibilities are pretty remote to say the least. That's why we haven't spent a lot of time talking to the John Mackeys of the world. They are already public companies. The genie is out of the bottle."

Mackey professes to be aloof from any concerns about Whole Foods' stock price. "Investors of a public company, if they don't think Whole Foods has a good return, they sell their stock," he shrugs. "In fact, people are gaining and losing customers all the time, are hiring and losing team members all the time. People are selling stock as we speak, others are buying." Which makes it all the stranger that he was outed two years ago for pumping Whole Foods' stock and bashing his competitors under a pseudonym on Yahoo Finance message boards over a period of seven years. "The endgame is now under way for OATS... ." wrote Rahodeb, Mackey's alter ego, of Whole Foods' largest then-rival, Wild Oats. "Whole Foods is systematically destroying their viability as a business — market by market, city by city." Mackey was cleared of any impropriety in the "sock puppeting" fiasco. And in 2007, Whole Foods did absorb Wild Oats, prompting the Federal Trade Commission to launch an antitrust investigation, which was settled in early 2009.

No one is disputing Mackey's right to run and grow his business. But his actions seem to contradict his rhetoric. "I don't see this as a clean break from the past," Joel Makower, author of Strategies for the Green Economy, says of Mackey's stakeholder model, which has been around for decades. "A lot of sustainability efforts are happening in an evolutionary way, but not at the scale and speed we need to address social and environmental issues." Paul Hawken, coauthor of Natural Capitalism, warns, "Without a systematic and coordinated approach to climate change, energy production, oceans, food, militarism, poverty, and other issues, there will be an ecological and corresponding social collapse because the shadow side of private enterprise is parochialism and narrow self-serving interests."

Back in 2005, when Mackey was introducing Conscious Capitalism, he engaged in a debate with his free-market hero Milton Friedman in the Libertarian magazine Reason. It was an unlikely spectacle, made all the more so by Friedman's energetic debunking of his grocer-disciple's theories. "The differences between John Mackey and me regarding the social responsibility of business are for the most part rhetorical," Friedman wrote. "Strip off the camouflage, and it turns out we are in essential agreement."

Mackey's retort — delivered with all due deference — argued that Friedman was missing the point. "If we are truly interested in spreading capitalism throughout the world (I certainly am)," Mackey wrote, "we need to do a better job marketing it." And "if our two statements are equivalent," he added, "then I know which statement has the superior 'marketing power.' Mine does."

Mackey is not the first to note the marketing power of conspicuous good works (see Rockefeller, J.D.). And it's that much easier to take the high ground when you're selling heirloom tomatoes as opposed to, say, oil. But stripped of the camouflage, as Friedman put it, Mackey's position sounds a lot like capitalism as we've known it for generations. Mackey might be willing to rely on the invisible hand and other miracles, but the rest of us don't have that luxury.

OUTSTANDING IN HIS FIELD During his years at Whole Foods, Mackey has gone from hippie to Libertarian, from crunchy shopkeeper to CEO of an $8 billion retail beast. | Photograph Courtesy of Whole Foods Market

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29 Comments

  • Chuck Blakeman

    Doug,

    I think you've hit on something important. It's really difficult for investor held companies to transition from a focus on making money to one of making money by doing good. It's a lot easier to start one that way before investors get on board so they buy into something with full awareness.

    My focus is on privately held companies because they can do anything they want to help the world around them. If a $250 million privately held company makes $10 million in profit and the CEO decides to give $8 million of it way, everyone applauds him as a hero. If the CEO of an investor-held company that was not founded on making money by doing good tried that, he'd be vilified and the company would not prosper.

    I also agree that companies cannot become moral. But I would also say they cannot be immoral either. It's the leaders and how they make decisions that create a good direction or a negative one. I would also say that the bigger issue is not "capitalism" but macro-capitalism. We have a few centures of proof that devising macro-solutions for micro-problems doesn't work. All problems are local. The more wide-sweeping the macro-solution is, the more likely that some locals will get left out and others will even get hurt so that the majority will be helped. I much prefer micro-solutions for micro-problems, and I believe smaller companies with more localized footprints (and local government) are better answers to the problems.

  • Doug Stewart

    Despite CEOs positioning "Conscious Capitalism" as a new idea, it is in fact a very old one. Under various names, other companies (e.g. Body Shop in the UK, Magna in Canada) have been promoting their company under this banner for decades.

    However, I'm not buying it. I use the term 'buying' deliberately because in many cases (I suspect most) it is really a marketing exercise. The reality is that companies are driven by financial motives. This idea that companies can be transformed into moral entities is driven largely as a way of marketing (note the importance of public perception, with the example from this article of Whole Foods having a boycott because of selling less wholesome foods). Alternatively, it is a way for companies to argue for self-regulation rather than external regulation.

    In addition to trying to sell the idea to the general public (e.g. customers and potential customers), there is also an attempt by management to sell it to shareholders (note the argument that companies can make more money by being moral). However, what happens when there is a conflict and morality costs? For most companies (I exclude the small percentage of 'B companies' and similar) the management has a legal compulsion to follow the profits. One must see that such a morality, which is put to the side as soon as it is no longer convenient, is only a skin-deep morality.

    If a company is really committed to morality, let them build it into their corporate charter and have a shareholder vote on exactly how much profit they can sacrifice for such morality. Until then, companies can claim only a morality of convenience.

  • Chuck Blakeman

    Just got around to reading this article after someone pushed me to it from reading a recent blog post I wrote "Why capitalists (like me) need to embrac social entrepreneurship." http://blog.teamnimbuswest.com I was very surprised, not at what I read, but at how it was reported.

    It was heartening to see so many here who already commented on the obvious OpEd bias of this article. I kept trying to get the writer "out of the way" as I read it and couldn't do it - this seemed much more about Danielle's opinions of Mackey and capitalism than about reporting what Mackey is thinking so the rest of us could decide how we feel about that.

    Frankly, this isn't about left or right, but about simple rules of journalism and Sacks clearly violated a bunch of rules by simply using her subject as a springboard for personal opinion. Dont' call it journalism when it's OpEd.

    I also agree with the person who said the bigger issue is that Fast Company allowed this writer-focused article to get published. The journalism was self-serving and slanted, the editing was even more so.

  • p h

    Denying health care is great for Whole Foods Bottom Line. I havent had health care for 2 years, so what do I do? Pop echinacea, goldenseal and elderberry tea. More business for whole foods. Whole Foods is also anti union, so those workers wont have health care either. Too bad herbs can only go so far. Sometimes you need to see a doctor or go to an emergency room.

  • Nadina Cole-Potter

    OK, all you macro- big-picture thinkers and philosophers -- here is an enlightened, budget-conscious, health-conscious consumer's take on Whole Foods: waaayyy overpriced packaged foods. For instance, 12 oz of oat granola with no nuts for around $5. I found a recipe in the Deaf Smith County (TX) natural and vegetarian cook book where I created 1 lb of the same stuff for around $1.00. Almost $3 for a 32 oz container of beef broth when I can get it (organic!)for $1.99 at Trader Joe. It was "dummies" simple: 4 everyday ingredients (I just left out the nuts), 1 cookie sheet and an oven. It was so fabulous, I had to stop making it because we were eating it like candy. As for organic produce: my major test is stone fruit in the summer, particularly nectarines. Well, Whole Foods brings organic stone fruit to market under- ripe. It doesn't ripen up on the kitchen counter or in a paper bag with any sweetness or flavor. It just gets mushy and tasteless. It sells for twice or 3 times the price of much better quality stone fruit at smaller chains such as Sprouts and Sunflower. The premium pricing for organic is not worth it -- the product would not even be worth it at a non-organic price. Fresh meat and fish, likewise are so overpriced, I won't even purchase them. Although it is not organic, we purchase our beef, pork, and chicken at Costco, Sprouts or Sunflower. Fish from Trader Joe. Although the fish is frozen, it tastes fresher than so-called fresh fish from any other retail source and it doesn't sit in the case exposed to the air for who-knows-how many days off the boat. And, at least in our market area, Whole Foods does not advertise Wednesday specials like Sprouts or Sunflower or even monthly like Trader Joe.

    Ultimately, I don't give a rat's patootie about Whole Foods' business model if the value isn't there for me as a consumer. (I don't grocery shop at WalMart either because they haven't discovered unscented non-food items like detergent). But then, I didn't buy more house than I could afford, I paid cash for my Hyundai Santa Fe, I laugh at people who pay a premium for "designer" clothing with logos on them (if someone wants to use my body as a moving billboard, they can pay me for the space), won't buy shoes that hurt my feet and my back and still use my Treo 600 which I purchased in 2004 for business (so far, I have over 1500 entries in my contacts), and I pay off my credit card every month. For me, there is no status gain in paying too much (or anything) for inferior merchandise.

  • Richard Sharp

    If you would like to learn more about Conscious Capitalism, please go to: http://www.cc-institute.com. The Conscious Capitalism Institute (CCI) has been founded to advance the understanding and implementation of the principles of Conscious Capitalism in all forms of business and social organizations.

    The CCI is designed to be the primary knowledge hub for the conscious capitalism movement, focused on original research and best practices in high performance organizational leadership. It represents a unique collaborative effort among major corporations, research faculty at prominent business schools around the world, and thought leaders from leading consulting organizations and elsewhere.

  • Richard Tafel

    I run a small consultant company that provides strategic thinking and policy change to social entrepreneurs.

    I've worked on health, education and civil rights both in the US and around the world.
    What I've learned is that if you care about sustainable change in the world you realize it will take a combination of spirituality, government, non-profits and business leader like Mackey. A holistic approach is necessary today.

    Sure it's easy to be snide and cynical and mock the man as this journalist does for his desire to break down the old walls between faith, justice and business. But what I used to love about Fast Company was that it highlighted innovators who brought together doing good in the world with the best, sustainable company practices.

    Keep up the good work Mackey. You've changing the way America thinks about food. We need more business leaders with your commitment to justice.
    Fast Company can and should do better.
    Rev. Rich Tafel
    President, RLT Strategies

  • Hans Kuendig

    Michael Burns writes: our free-market economy is what drives innovation. When you speak about a free market economy, are you talking about the one where the government (meaning the U.S. tax payer) bailed out AIG, Wall Street companies, banks and auto companies, while the same tax payer was thrown out of their homes? Is that the free market economy you are referring to? I'm just curious.

    Maybe I don't understand the concept the way you do, because I thought it was about accountability. If you don't manage your business successfully, you fail, and nobody bails you out. You can always try again; that's part of the free aspect. But you don't get bailed out by taxpayers in a free market economy. You work hard and succeed. You don't succeed on the backs of taxpayers. We have something else here in America today, and I'm not sure what to call it, but it's not working for me. Both parties, make that all of the parties involved for the past few decades, have failed miserably, and then bailed themselves out by borrowing from the future. This is not free market principles in action. You can't just say the words and expect everyone to believe it because you said the words. There is something called reality.

  • Brock Stout

    I was turned off from the beginning, with the phrase that he was "punching bag of the progressives and the poster boy of the right wing." So a liberal is "progressive" and a conservative is "right wing?" That is like saying that people are divided on the issue of abortion "between the pro-life camp and the pro-death camp." No one would stand for that.
    I am a new subscriber, and am now alerted to the magazine's editorial policy, pulled from a 1930s-era poly sci textbook.

  • Joel Sanders

    Perhaps this quote is overdone, but its a great contrast of who the type of person Danielle Sacks is vs. the type of person John Mackey is:

    "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

  • Barry Dennis

    John Mackey's (Whole Foods)Conscious Captitalism may be part of just a few ways to evolve anarchy-directed captitalism into free-market system. Free enterprrise that allows the benefits of societally-moderated captitalism combined with the entrepreneurial risk-taking that provides the innovations we enjoy.

  • Justin Roff-Marsh

    "But isn't it a little too late to begin believing in magic?" Well I don't know about that. But I do know that this is yet another example of leftist bias and smug self-superiority from what used to be a fine business publication.

  • Anonymous

    This is an interesting article. I'm not sure if I buy that the article is bent to the left (and certainly do not support the sad and delusional comments from Michael Burns) but I likewise do not believe it does the best job in explaining Mr. Mackey's true sentiments. To say he's a saint or not without an agenda for personal aggrandizement is also a bit hollow. Sorry but this ain't little leagues--everyone in the CEO game is brash, cocky and a bit egotistical (hell, read the story of why he got into the all-natural game in the 1st place). I know I am and if I didn't think I could lead my company I damn sure wouldn't sign up for the stress, work and management of other egos. But, passion is passion. If you have a product you believe in, people you believe are supported via the work you do and a true vision for what the world can be--then ofcourse you and everyone like you will seek to be a leader of something and your ideas will sometimes wrong some the wrong way. Ego for sure but that's okay as long as it's not a brutal stubbornness. That said, I think the article does a very good job of describing the dilemma of consciousness vs. profit.

  • JeffMowatt

    Well OK, but as some are aware most of what's being said here about reforming capitalism has been in the public domain for the last 13 years under the description of people-centered economics, which derives from a paper for the 1996 Committee to Re-elect the President. On Wikipedia under the topic of Inclusive Capitalism, the history may bee found. There's a list here, of the many "new capitalisms" since.

    http://people-centered.net/Cap...