- Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey thinks business is “judged and attacked” by society.
- Mackey spoke at a conference, in one of his first appearances since stepping down as Whole Foods CEO.
- Mackey has long been an advocate of free markets and decried government actions as “socialism.”
Whole Foods Market co-founder John Mackey has a problem: Society doesn’t appreciate people like him.
Mackey is one of the people who took Whole Foods from a single grocery store in Austin, Texas, to an Amazon-owned chain with hundreds of locations. As of 2021, he was worth an estimated $75 million, according to Inc.
But Mackey said during a presentation at the NEXT 2023 conference by Intralox in New Orleans last week that the public should give him and others in the business world more credit.
“I always felt that business is misunderstood by society,” Mackey said during the presentation, according to industry publication Baking Business. “It’s hated by the intellectuals, but we are the real value creators in the world.”
“We are the ones that are creating the prosperity that lifts everyone up,” he added. “We’re not understood but judged and attacked.” He did not cite specific examples of those judgments or attacks, according to Baking Business.
Mackey’s comments are the latest iteration of the ex-CEO’s philosophy, and one of his first appearances since stepping down as Whole Foods CEO last year. In 2013, he wrote a book titled “Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business” with Babson College professor Raj Sisodia.
The book, which argues that businesses should make decisions with input from stakeholders other than shareholders, also focuses on those who run businesses as society’s most important figures. “Entrepreneurs are the true heroes in a free-enterprise economy, driving progress in business, society, and the world,” he wrote.
Mackey has become an outspoken free-market libertarian. He called capitalism “the greatest invention that humanity’s ever done” at a 2020 event hosted by the Federalist Society. And he called the Affordable Care Act, which changed how healthcare was sold in the US, both “socialism” and “fascism.”
Last year, he told a libertarian podcast that “socialists are taking over” institutions from the US military to major corporations without citing examples, The Guardian reported.
Mackey started selling health food in 1978 after living in a vegetarian commune in Austin and working at a natural foods store. His first venture, a supermarket called Safer Way, failed after he and then-girlfriend Renee Lawson refused to sell meat, coffee, or anything that contained refined sugar.
When he co-founded Whole Foods two years later, Mackey agreed to sell those items and started opening more locations within a few years. That earned him the nickname “Darth Vader” from some of his former co-op buddies, Texas Monthly reported in 2017.
As Whole Foods CEO, he also shepherded the company through its 2017 acquisition by Amazon in a deal worth $13.7 billion. Now, he plans to start a chain of health restaurants in Southern California called Love.Life!, according to Baking Business.
Amazon avoided making big changes at Whole Foods while he was CEO, Mackey said during the presentation. But he said that conversations with Jason Buechel, his successor, have pointed to “a little different story,” he said.
“We’ll have to see how that story plays out,” Mackey added.