Whole Foods CEO lectures about business philosophy

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Whole Foods Market co-CEO John Mackey used to wash dishes at a Houston restaurant, and now he oversees an international chain of organic food stores — a success story Mackey shared with business students at a lecture Thursday night. Tom Gilligan, dean of the McCombs School of Business, led a question-and-answer session with Mackey during which the co-CEO gave his views on his company’s success. Although Mackey studied philosophy as a UT student in the 1970s, he has always been interested in healthy living. In 1978, Mackey borrowed $10,000 from his father to start a natural food store. Two years later, he launched the first Whole Foods with a group of partners. “I’m on fire about the idea of educating people on how to eat,” Mackey said. “Our country is sick, and we spend so much money on health care, but the medical system can’t cure it — only the individual can.” With that, the audience of about 300 erupted in approval. The mission of Whole Foods is to create a synergistic culture between customers, employees, stakeholders and leaders — not just to make profit, Mackey said. While growth is a goal of Whole Foods, spreading healthy food to the world takes precedent in the company’s business model. “We are a mission-driven company,” Mackey said. “We have a mission to sell healthy food and to have a different relationship with our stakeholders.” Fortune magazine ranked Whole Foods one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” the past 14 years in a row. When asked how Whole Foods motivates its employees, Mackey said you can’t really motivate someone; it’s easier to select enthusiastic people. “Once you create a conscious culture, it selects itself,” Mackey said. “The human condition is to be fundamentally happy, and you have to set up a business for that to flourish.” Mackey’s theory of “Conscious Capitalism,” which drives Whole Foods, has four parts: a business must have a higher potential than to just make money, a stakeholder model recognizing that there are several stakeholders that have interest in the business, conscious leadership and a culture that supports stakeholders and leadership. “Whole Foods is very nontraditional,” Gilligan said. “They are among the pioneers that have taken a novel approach and been successful.” Whole Foods is planning to open wellness clubs at stores in major cities that members can join to get discounts on the healthiest foods. Whole Foods is taking it upon itself to educate people about healthy lifestyle choices, Mackey said. “As a skeptic foodie, I wanted to know if [Whole Foods’] business practices were as conscious as they claim,” said international nutrition junior Jackie Anderson. “You can tell that it’s not just a business goal but a life goal. He cares about the community, and the profit drive is for the stakeholders.”