Article from the New Yorker on John Mackey

John Mackey, the co-founder and chief executive of Whole Foods Market

The New Yorker has a long article on Mackey which was a very good read.  Since it is so long, I’ve summarized what I found interesting from it below.  I’m terrible at summarizing and in college never got into highlighting my textbooks.  When reading I either found it all really interesting or all really dull, so it was either all yellow or remained all white.  So, the fact that I have summarized lots of text below should tell you a lot about what I thought of the article.

  • Oversees fifty-four thousand “team members”
  • A year ago, Mackey came across a book called “The Engine 2 Diet,” by an Austin, Texas, firefighter and former professional triathlete named Rip Esselstyn. Basically, you eat plants: you are a rabbit with a skillet. Mackey had been a vegetarian for more than thirty years, and a vegan for five, but the Engine 2 book, among others, helped get him to give up vegetable oils, sugar, and pretty much anything processed. He lost fifteen pounds.
  • Mackey sought succor in spiritual practice. He engaged a friend, a follower of the Czech transpersonal psychologist Stanislav Grof, to guide him through a therapeutic session of holotropic breathing. “I had this very powerful session, very powerful. It lasted about two hours,” Mackey said in an inspirational CD set he released last year called “Passion and Purpose: The Power of Conscious Capitalism.” “I was having a dialogue with what I would define as my deeper self, or my higher self.” He had a pair of epiphanies, one having to do with severed relationships that needed healing. The other was that “if I wanted to continue to do Whole Foods, there couldn’t be any part of my life that was secretive or hidden or that I’d be embarrassed [about] if people found out about it. I had to let go of all of that,” he said. “I’m this public figure now.” He couldn’t “embarrass the company,” he told me. “I have to grow up”—he is fifty-six. “I can’t have affairs with women. One of the things that happened was you have more money and you have more opportunities for such things. And those are sort of off-limits.
  • “I have my own views, and they’re not necessarily the same as Whole Foods’,” Mackey told me. “People want me to suppress who I am. I guess that’s why so many politicians and C.E.O.s get to be sort of boring because they end up suppressing any individuality to conform to some phony, inauthentic way of being. I’d rather be myself.”
  • “He’s a ready-aim-fire guy, and he’s not real disciplined in how he speaks his mind,” Gary Hirshberg, the C.E.O. of Stonyfield, the organic milk and yogurt producer, told me. “He has a really hard time reconciling his public and private selves.” Mackey’s resilience has surprised even those who, like Hirshberg, hold him in high esteem. “John has that Clintonesque ability to hang in there,” Hirshberg said. “He is Whole Foods management’s greatest asset but also, at times, its greatest challenge.”
  • The health-care op-ed’s headline, “THE WHOLE FOODS ALTERNATIVE TO OBAMACARE,” was the Journals, Mackey says, but the sentiments were his. Mackey’s prescriptions ranged from the obvious (people need to eat better) to the market-minded (promote interstate competition among insurers) to the dreamy (the corporations will take care of us). The gist was that, together, they’d obviate the need for a federal plan, and that the course being pursued by the White House and the Democrats would have disastrous consequences. He led with an epigram attributed to Margaret Thatcher: “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”
  • “I was so viciously attacked for two reasons,” Mackey told me. “One is that people had an idea in their minds about the way Whole Foods was. So when I articulated a capitalistic interpretation of what needed to be done in health care, that was disappointing to some people.” He begrudges the extent to which people have projected onto Whole Foods an unrealistic and idealistic vision of the company. “The C.E.O. of Safeway, Steven Burd, wrote an op-ed piece in June advocating, basically, market solutions to the health-care problem, and nobody gave a ****,” he said.
  • In high school, Mackey was an indifferent student, a late bloomer, puberty-wise, and a fanatic about basketball, science fiction, and girls. Before his senior year, he was cut from the varsity basketball team, and he persuaded his parents to move so that he could switch schools and play. “That changed my life because for the first time I realized that if you didn’t like the hand you were dealt, you didn’t just have to feel sorry for yourself. You could do something about it.”
  • He told me, “If I could, I would wave a magic wand so that Americans ate better because the diseases that are killing us—heart disease, cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s—these diseases have a high correlation with diet. And that is something that most people do not understand.”
  • Mackey is, by all accounts, fiercely competitive. Years ago, the traditional executive-retreat volleyball games had to be scrapped, owing to Mackey’s intensity and his ill-disguised scorn for less capable teammates. (Mackey says that he simply got too old for volleyball.)
  • “But you have a reputation for liking to argue,” I said to Mackey.  “But I don’t like to argue to be right. I like to argue because that’s how I get to the truth. I think dialectically.”
  • I asked him whether he’d given thought to what might come after him. “I don’t have any plans to leave anytime soon, no matter how much the unions would like me to,” he said. Talk turned to food, as it often does. “You only love animal fat because you’re used to it,” he said. “You’re addicted.” He urged me to consider reprogramming my palate. He also suggested that I try Grofian breathing.

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