The greatest companies have the greatest purposes, said co-CEO and founder of Whole Foods Market John Mackey at his speech at the Farmer School of Business (FSB) Tuesday night.
Mackey’s talk, titled Conscious Business and Conscious Capitalism: New Paradigms for the 21st Century, was the kick-off for the FSB Executive Speakers Series. The speech focused on Mackey’s unique view of what business should strive to be.
“The leadership of conscious business means thinking about business differently,” Mackey said. “It means thinking, ‘How can my business change the world?'”
That heroic view of business is what Mackey said his company is founded upon. Mackey opened the first Whole Foods Market in Austin, Texas with the primary goal of selling healthy food and earning a living. He said he did not envision a Whole Foods empire, but the growth was the result of a flood damaging the first store, forcing him to look for a second location to place his products should an accident happen again. Since then, the company has expanded to 280 stores in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom.
“Enterprises have a higher purpose beyond maximizing profits,” Mackey said. “Enterprises are managed to optimize value of the major interdependent stakeholders, have conscious leadership and conscious business culture.”
According to Mackey, that means the business is not out to make money. Instead, it should be to strive for the highest ideals.
“We must aspire to fulfill good, true, beautiful and heroic.” Mackey said. “This is what the people want, and this is how businesses will succeed today.”
Mackey said these four ideals are implemented at his company. Whole Foods is good by providing excellent service to customers, true in the knowledge of the quality of their products, beautiful by giving 5 percent of its profit to nonprofit organizations and heroic by loving and caring about the world enough to want to make a difference, according to Mackey.
“I thought it was a relevant way to look at business today,” junior Ian Winner said. “These are principles I want to consider as I move into the business world.”
Another point Mackey stressed was that his company’s achievements are the result of happy team members, happy customers and happy investors. To generate that happiness, he said, was the by-product of Whole Food’s core commitment to purpose, personal growth of its employees, service and friendship.
Junior Blaze Burke said Mackey’s perspective was an interesting way to look at business.
“You’re always looking for a new, competitive edge, and that changed perspective to put consumers ahead of profits is not the first thought most businesses have,” Burke said.
Mackey said it was crucial to end old business metaphors like “survival of the fittest” to emphasize businesses should care about other businesses, like their suppliers, as well.
“It needs to be a win/win/win environment,” Mackey said. “If it is focused on a higher purpose, all stakeholders can win with a harmony of interests.”
American Studies Assistant Professor Kelly Quinn called Whole Foods’ model provocative, but she saw flaws in Mackey’s happiness for all attitude.
“What’s happiness as a principle,” Quinn asked. “How does (Mackey) know what a satisfied customer looks like?”
Business models aside, Burke thought Whole Foods’ pledge to customers and the environment was most significant to him.
“(Whole Foods) has that bigger purpose beyond monetary value by putting people and the environment first,” he said.
Like many in the audience, Winner and Burke are considering careers as entrepreneurs, and Ernst & Young named Mackey Entrepreneur of the Year in 2003. His advice for the aspiring businessmen is simple: Do what he did and follow your dreams before it is too late.