Skip to Content

November 23, 2010: Mr. John Mackey

CEO, Whole Foods Market

Apple Joe
Apple Joe

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 CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc. he has built an $8 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. As one of the very first supermarket-style natural foods stores in the country, the store thrived.

With a fierce sense of competition, a strong belief in free market principles, a staunch supporter of a decentralized and team-based structure, a keen understanding of consumer trends and an 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 290 stores in the US, Canada, and the UK. 
John 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 two monthly book clubs. He is always up for a lively debate about politics, economics, history or sports. He also 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 to re-invigorate the 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, a non-profit think tank with the tagline Liberating the Entrepreneurial Spirit for Good.