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5 things we've learned from John Mackey's book tour

john mackey conscious leadership book 2020
Alongside the release of his new book, the Whole Foods Market co-founder opened up about the changes his company has endured these past few years.

Forty years ago, the first Whole Foods Market opened in Austin, Texas. In the summer of 2017, e-commerce giant Amazon bought the 465-store chain for $13.7 billion.

Since mid-September, Whole Foods Market co-founder and CEO John Mackey has spoken with numerous media outlets regarding his new book, "Conscious Leadership: Elevating Humanity Through Business." He's discussed Amazon's influence, his evolving concept of "conscious leadership" and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We've rounded up some of his comments here.

Whole Foods didn't sell its soul to Amazon

In 2017, a hedge fund took a stake in Whole Foods, then demanded big changes to make the store more profitable. Mackey was devastated and decided to look for a buyer. Within four months, Whole Foods and Amazon reached an agreement.

"I truly believe the Amazon merger was the best alternative for Whole Foods and the ideal win-win-win solution to the problems we faced with shareholder activists and new competitive challenges." — Mackey to Business Insider, Oct. 4 

Shedding the 'Whole Paycheck' moniker?

Whole Foods earned the infamous nickname "Whole Paycheck" because of its high prices.  But the company is starting its fourth round of price cuts since Amazon took over, Mackey says, crediting Amazon for helping the grocery cut costs:

“You have to work on every detail of your business. You have to look at where you’re spending your money. Amazon’s brought new critical tools to Whole Foods to help us think it through—to cut down our shrink, cut down our spoilage, cut down our theft that’s occurring. We’re just bringing a more critical eye to our costs at Whole Foods.”—Mackey to CNBC, Sept. 15

Consumers must learn more about healthy eating

Mackey criticizes people for not eating more healthy foods and blames obesity and its related comorbidities—diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure—for the high number of COVID-19 deaths.

"In some sense, we’re all food addicts. We love things that are rich, that are sweet. … And the market is providing people what they want. I don’t think there’s an access problem. I think there’s a market demand problem. People have got to become wiser about their food choices. And if people want different foods, the market will provide it." — Mackey to The New York Times, Sept. 24 

Conscious capitalism evolves to conscious leadership

In his new book, Mackey moves beyond conscious capitalism to promote leadership that serves the stakeholders and the organization ahead of enriching and empowering itself.

"Amazon has some different values than Whole Foods, but they haven’t tried to jam Amazon culture down our throat…It’s like a marriage. You change in a marriage. And you don’t love everything about your spouse. I’m happily married for 30 years, my wife has changed me, I love my wife, but I don’t love everything about my wife. I don’t love everything about Amazon. I love most things about Amazon. But I don’t love everything about Amazon."—Mackey to Fortune, Oct. 6 

The pandemic tested Whole Foods' values

Like most grocery retailers, Whole Foods Market saw sales increase during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Wholesaler UNFI reported Sept. 29 that its sales to Whole Foods rose 7.4% in 2020 compared with 2019.) 

"Although online sales were part of that increase, Markey says something else was lost: A company is ultimately about relationships, about trust, and about partnership. And the hardest thing in Covid has been the difficulty, other than virtually, to connect with people. More people may work at home when this is over, but in reality, if you’re going to maintain a culture, you have to have people connecting with each other, and there’s no real substitute for doing that in person."—Mackey, to Bloomberg, Sept. 29 

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