Organic Evolution: Whole Foods' John Mackey Gives His Company (and Employees) the Freedom to Flourish

By Fisher, Brenna | Success, March 2009 | Go to article overview

Organic Evolution: Whole Foods' John Mackey Gives His Company (and Employees) the Freedom to Flourish


Fisher, Brenna, Success


Even if you have never shopped at a Whole Foods Market and observed its cornucopia of organic offerings, you have undoubtedly seen its influence upon the food industry. The world's largest organic-and natural-foods grocer has grown to include more than 270 stores and counting, with more than 53,000 employees. Its success has inspired other grocery chains to carry organic lines and even identify the locations from which foods are harvested.

Co-founder and CEO John Mackey, 55, will be the first to tell you he never had a master plan to introduce organic food to the masses. The philosophy-educated college dropout says he didn't think in terms of risk in those days but in terms of feeling good about his job. With $45,000 borrowed from friends and family, Mackey and then-girlfriend Renee Lawson Hardy opened a tiny natural-food store in a three-story house in Austin, Texas. At the time (the late 70s), natural and organic foods had a very small cult following.

"As the media liked to say in the early days, we were a bunch of hippies selling food to hippies. It was never taken very seriously by the mainstream," Mackey says.

The young couple was excited about doing something they loved and were utterly unaware of the market's potential. To make ends meet, they lived in the third-floor office of their store, SaferWay, and bathed with the dishwasher hose in the vegetarian cafe on the second floor because there was no shower.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

They eventually partnered with Craig Weller and Mark Skiles of Clarksville Natural Grocery and relocated to a 10,500-square-foot space to open the original Whole Foods Market in 1980. They were content with the one store, but a Memorial Day flood in 1981 caused extensive damage throughout Austin and devastated Whole Foods Market. The incident compelled them to rebuild and open a second store. "We didn't want to have all of our organic eggs in one storefront, so to speak," Mackey says.

Expansion was slow in the beginning--building on the success of each new store. By 1988, they had just five stores. During that slow growth, Mackey and his co-founders were able to figure out which business systems worked the old-fashioned way--by trial and error. What they discovered was that being open to constant change and new ideas (no matter who they came from) was the system that worked.

"I like to say that Whole Foods reinvented the wheel many times because we weren't stuck in a legacy way of thinking," Mackey says. "We were very free to innovate and do things differently. We didn't know what we weren't allowed to do, so we brought fresh thinking and fresh eyes.

"Fresh thinking led to the creation of an idealistic workplace that allows employees to basically run their own stores and teams almost independently from corporate. As long as employees meet Whole Foods' overall mission to sell the highest-quality organic food and improve people's well-being, there is no need for interference. And since stores are staffed by individuals who are downright obsessed with everything from hormone-free milk to homeopathic remedies, that mission is deeply rooted in the company culture.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"Having a strong purpose and mission attracted a lot of idealistic people who probably wouldn't have worked for a traditional grocery store," Mackey says.

After Whole Foods went public in 1992 and raised S23 million with the initial public offering, it purchased the Boston-based chain Bread & Circus. Mackey says combining the intellectual capital from both companies formed a rock-solid foundation that prepared them for the explosive expansion that followed for the next 16 years.

The company has yet to stop growing. As of November 2008, there were 66 leases signed for new stores. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Organic Evolution: Whole Foods' John Mackey Gives His Company (and Employees) the Freedom to Flourish
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.