Notes from Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's Visit to Fool HQ
A great perk of working at the Fool is the fantastic speakers who pay us a visit...my personal favorite is one of my idols -- Michael Lewis of Moneyball, The Blind Side, and Liar's Poker fame, who stopped by a few weeks ago. You can see a summary here: (http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2009/07/01/lessons-from-the-financial-crisis.aspx)
Anyhoo, John Mackey, the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Whole Foods swung by today. He spoke and answered some of our questions. I loved his idealism and candor. Here are some interesting points from his talk.
- He talked about conscious capitalism...that corporations can be more than profit-machines. He asserted that, like happiness for individuals, corporatations are better served indirectly striving for profit-maximization. People who focus on happiness tend to be selfish and narcissistic. They rarely reach their goal of happiness. Likewise, corporations that focus solely on profit can alienate their customers, employees, and suppliers. They are better served striving for 4 ideals (three of them Plato's, the last added by Mackey): The Good, The True, The Beautiful, and The Heroic.
- He doesn't buy the traditional stereotype that corporations are evil and non-profits are good. He thinks both have similar success factors and that both can do great good when entrepreneurial spirit is properly harnessed.
- Speaking of which (just in case you're wondering if Whole Foods practices conscious capitalism), Whole Foods has a ton of innovative charity endeavors including a Peace Corps-esque program it allows employees and suppliers to participate in. Another example is a micro-financing program. Two stats that jumped out about the program were that 99% of the loans go to women and 99% of the loans are paid back. Am I the only one who's wondering if the 1% of delinquent loans are all men?
- They joke at Whole Foods HQ that they could make more money in real estate than as a grocer. When a Whole Foods enters an area, real estate prices in the neighborhood shoot up. Aside from sweetheart leases, they haven't figured out a way to monetize the phenomenon. An example in DC is the P Street store (which he was here to visit b/c they won a charity drive contest)...the neighborhood around the store revitalized big time after it came.
- Let's end on a life philosophy note. Mackey doesn't believe in traditional retirement. He hates the idea of working yourself silly until your 50's or 60's and then doing nothing. He says he'll stay at Whole Foods until it stops being fun or until they kick him out.
-Anand Chokkavelu (who owns shares of Whole Foods but doesn't like their prepared foods)