John Mackey’s Whole Foods Vision to Reshape Capitalism
“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. 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. Two years ago, Mackey began rolling out his Catalyzing Conscious Capitalism Summit, which he will be expanding to Europe and India next year. The way Mackey sees it, Whole Foods has already left the world in better shape than he found it. 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. “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. In Mackey’s eyes, Whole Foods itself pursues both the good and the heroic. “The experience of being in the birth canal,” Mackey recalls on his Conscious Capitalism. 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. “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.
BICHLER & NITZAN The Enlightened Capitalist In order to buck this trend, however symbolically, we wrote a short, pointy article titled ‘Why Capitalists Do Not Want Recovery, and What That Means for America’. Clearly, the enlightened capitalist press wasn’t particularly keen on showcasing the power basis of accumulation. 3- BICHLER & NITZAN The Enlightened Capitalist I think that you are doing tremendous harm by publishing articles that mislead the public into thinking that capitalists do not want recovery. Small businesses are being looted and taken over by the government while shortages increase and inflation soars at over 60%. Are capitalists profiting from this crisis? No just corrupt politicians and businessmen that collude with state run enterprises all of whom would never survive in a capitalist economy. The leading capitalists and their investment organs are taking over larger and larger chunks of our natural resources, human-made artefacts and collective knowledge; they formulate and steer public policy to their own advantage; and they dominate ideology, education and the mass media. Second, the very power logic of accumulation – the need to strategically sabotage others in order to increase one’s own share of the total – forces capitalists to continue and dig their own graves, so to speak. Now, of course, most capitalists, particularly the smaller ones, are unaware of and certainly won’t admit these power underpinnings of capitalism. For politically correct capitalists with substantial money to invest, Mr. X’s fund offers a carefully hedged, two-pronged strategy: buying and holding do-good companies that profit from saving the planet while shorting firms that harm the environment and governments that misallocate the world’s resources. To see real capitalists in action, you need go to their ‘impact investing’ gatherings, where they deliberate saving the world, capitalist style. The mandate of the ‘ethical fund manager’ is simple: leverage the world’s distortions and imperfections by selling short and buying long future variations of inequality, the ups and downs of expected hunger, anticipated ecological degradation and regeneration and other assorted disasters and triumphs – and do it all in such a way that we, your capitalist clients, end up beating the holy average. The problem is that, according to the enlightened capitalist, we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds, but in one of the worst. So in the end, the only way to beat the big unreal capitalists of the distorted world is to join them.