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John Mackey’s Journey: From Hippie to Whole Foods Mogul

John Mackey (photo)

Whole Foods Market’s Cofounder and CEO for 44 years, John Mackey offers an intimate and provocative account of the rise of this iconic company and the personal and spiritual journey that inspired its remarkable impact.

The growth of Whole Foods isn’t just a business success story—it’s the story of a retail, cultural, and dietary revolution that has forever changed the industry and the way we eat. After more than four decades at the helm, John Mackey is ready to share never-before-told tales of the people and passions behind the beloved brand.

The Whole Story invites readers on the adventure of building Whole Foods Market: the colorful cast of idealists and foodies who formed the company’s DNA, the many breakthroughs and missteps; the camaraderie and the conflict, and the narrowly avoided disasters. Mackey takes us inside some of the most consequential decisions he had to make and honestly shares his regrets looking back.

For the millions of people who know and love Whole Foods, Mackey’s story is a candid look at the fellowship and meaning born of a shared mission and how an inimitable entrepreneur shepherded a startup hippy food store into the market-leading international brand it is today. John Mackey is an entrepreneur and the co-founder and visionary of Whole Foods Market. In his 44 years of service as CEO, the natural and organic grocer grew from a single store in Austin, Texas, to 540 stores in the U.S., U.K. and Canada, with annual sales exceeding $22 billion. Mackey co-founded the Conscious Capitalism Movement and co-authored a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling book entitled Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business and follow up, Conscious Leadership: Elevating Humanity Through Business. He is also the co-author of The Whole Foods Diet: The Lifesaving Plan for Health and Longevity and The Whole Foods Cookbook: 120 Delicious and Healthy Plant-Centered Recipes. Mackey currently serves on the board of directors for Conscious Capitalism, The Motley Fool, CATO Institute, The Institute for Cultural Evolution, and Students for Liberty and is pursuing his next business venture, Love.Life.

Shermer and Mackey discuss:

  • how lives turn out: genes, environment and luck
  • born in 1953: timing of going into the natural and organic foods market in the 1970s
  • growing up in the 60s and coming of age in the 70s
  • influence of his father, family, friends, mentors, teachers
  • Trinity University and UT Austin influences
  • Do you have to go to college to be successful?
  • what makes an entrepreneur successful
  • Ken Wilber, A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality
  • from vegetarian co-op to SaferWay (with Renee Lawson) to Whole Foods Market
  • from one store to many stores
  • unions, salary caps, CEO/worker ratio, employee-owned businesses, regulators
  • food quality regulation: private vs. government
  • spiritual journey: from Christianity to New Age mysticism, Eastern wisdom, and life-changing awakenings through psychedelics
  • political and intellectual development: from countercultural co-op dweller to libertarian and Conscious Capitalist
  • libertarianism as a philosophy
  • collective action problems: common good vs. individual liberty
  • What’s it like getting your company to an IPO?
  • What’s it like doing ultra-marathon hiking for days and weeks at a time?

This episode was released on July 6, 2024.

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