John Mackey on Whole Foods, Conscious Capitalism, and Life Beyond the Profit Motive

"I think the critics of capitalism have got it in this very small box - that it's all about money," explains John Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods. "And yet, I haven't found it be that way. I've known hundreds of entrepreneurs and with very few exceptions most of them did not start their businesses primarily to make money."

In Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, Mackey and his co-author, Raj Sisodia, make a case that businesses are at their best when reaching for a higher purpose that ranges far beyond any simplistic notions of the profit motive or self-interest. (For more information on Mackey's Conscious Capitalism nonprofit, go here).

Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with Mackey to discuss his new book, the success of Whole Foods, the growing burden of government on day-to-day life, and how the Austin-based entrepreneur came to appreciate what he calls "the heroic spirit of business."

About 45 minutes. Shot by Josh Swain, Amanda Winkler, and Todd Krainin at the 2013 International Students for Liberty Conference, held February 14-16 in Washington, D.C. Edited by Meredith Bragg.

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  • ||

    Mackey and his co-author, Raj Sisodia, make a case that businesses are at their best when reaching for a higher purpose...

    Who cares? Just sell me shit I want.

  • ||

    ^This

  • Hugh Akston||

    But he is selling his customers exactly what they want: moral superiority and class signals that they can eat.

  • grey||

    I actually threw up in my mouth a little. "...far beyond any simplistic notions of the profit motive or self-interest."

    Fine, he's apply some of his own ethics and morality to his business, this is more often the case than not in my experience. I see individuals applying their morality and ethics often in their business, not always as theatrically. I'm exempting government defended liability limited corporations. But okay, cute video as counter of Liberals constant assault on the free market.

    My question to Nick and Meredith would be, if profit motive and self interest are so simple, how come libtards either stare back blankly or in uncontrollable rage, when the words and application are discussed? Since when are Libertarians down selling profit motive and self interest, Et tu, Brute, Et tu?

    Sometimes it seems like there is something liberal going on at Reason.

    Perhaps I'm nit-picking, but I'd have preferred, "...in conjunction with the notions of profit motive and self-interest."

  • grey||

    'applying', I have to up my proof reading game.

  • ||

    What the fuck? Whole Foods again?

    There are hundreds of small groceries across the country built and run by hard working capitalists, and we have to hear about this guy every week? Why? Because he caters to narcissists and self absorbed lefty pricks?

  • CampingInYourPark||

    He once said Obamacare was fascist, and retracted it the next day, so he is okay

  • BakedPenguin||

    Yeah, good thing Reason never publishes anything about how Obamacare is a fucked up mess.

  • Brandon||

    Because he caters to narcissists and self absorbed lefty pricks very well and makes a lot of money doing it while seemingly keeping his employees and suppliers happy as well. I don't get the objection to talking about him or his company.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    "Because he caters to narcissists and self absorbed lefty pricks very well and makes a lot of money doing it while seemingly keeping his employees and suppliers happy as well."

    He stocks shelves with the equivalent of overpriced snake oil for progtards and makes a lot of money. What is "heroic" about it? See also: Bill Gates; Warren Buffet

  • Pro Libertate||

    I think the part people around here like is that he does that while making libertarian noises.

  • sarcasmic||

    while making libertarian noises.

    It's funny because it's true!

  • Anonymous Coward||

    He stocks shelves with the equivalent of overpriced snake oil for progtards and makes a lot of money.

    Is it wrong to part a fool from his money if the fool gives consent?

  • BakedPenguin||

    Exactly. He makes a fortune selling high profit margin goods to ideological opponents. What part of this is bad?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Well, he could hurt himself laughing, I suppose.

    Personally, I'd have trouble selling some of the stuff, which is misrepresented as better than other, much cheaper stuff, but that's not to say that they don't sell plenty of good, if pricey, product.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Agreed. Their meat department is awesome.

  • Pro Libertate||

    And they have a nice variety of ridiculously expensive, but tasty, cheeses.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    "Is it wrong to part a fool from his money if the fool gives consent?"

    Of course not, but there's nothing "heroic" about it

  • Brandon||

    I never said it was heroic. I said it was successful. And I don't see anything particularly wrong with any of the other crap he talks about, as long as it's not subsidized or coerced. He is a much better example of a good, libertarian-leaning business man than the "hundreds of small groceries across the country built and run by hard working capitalists."

  • CampingInYourPark||

    "I never said it was heroic"

    You didn't have to. He did it for himself

  • ||

    It is a hollow objection really....I just think the spotlight on him is not all that justified....but yeah all of the things y'all say about him are true.

    He does get a gold star for pointing out that obamacare is fascist.

  • sarcasmic||

    He has said things that lead some to believe he has some libertarian principles.
    He just can't say them too loud or his tolerant customers might boycott his store.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Exactly. He's in business, not politics, so he'll likely always step back if business gets hurt.

  • sarcasmic||

    That's why he had to back off on his opposition to Obamacare.
    Tolerant people who do not tolerate such intolerance were threatening to take their business elsewhere.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    "He has said things that lead some to believe he has some libertarian principles.
    He just can't say them too loud or his tolerant customers might boycott his store."

    My advice would be:
    "If you can't speak your mind without it affecting your business, maybe you should just keep your mouth shut or market to a different customer"

  • Pro Libertate||

    Well, I think his view is that he can get away with it, so long as the meddling kids don't quite understand it.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Suthenboy, you posted something yesterday about tree farming. I was wondering - do you sell any for paper, and if so, what kind of trees are they?

  • ||

    Southern white pine...and the paper mills are all gone from around here. Paper is dying. All of the pine has gone into plywood for the last ten years.

    Red Oak....mostly for lumber...same for Yellow Poplar, though some of the poplar goes into plywood as well.

    The water oaks and pin oaks go for railroad ties.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Oh, okay. I lived for a while in the FL panhandle, and the St. Joe company had a huge forest of slash pine up there near the Apalachiacola. I heard it's almost like growing a crop. They could harvest after only 5 years, assuming no droughts.

    If you think it's bad for pulp now, just wait until hemp / pot becomes legal.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    "Oh, okay. I lived for a while in the FL panhandle, and the St. Joe company had a huge forest of slash pine up there near the Apalachiacola. I heard it's almost like growing a crop"

    It's exactly like growing a crop

  • Brett L||

    Last I heard, St. Joe was selling pine pellets to the Danes for alternative energy plants.

  • KPres||

    Life after the profit motive? Everything is profit motive one way or another. No, it's not always about collecting dollars, but it is always about furthering your own values, goals and interests.

  • Sevo||

    KPres| 3.21.13 @ 3:36PM |#
    "Life after the profit motive? Everything is profit motive one way or another. No, it's not always about collecting dollars, but it is always about furthering your own values, goals and interests."

    This gets ignored entirely too often. See, oh Public Choice theory.
    Or Mother Teresa, who didn't want anything for herself (other than free airplane rides and hotels all over the world as she was explaining she didn't want anything for herself)

  • Mr. Seeds||

    It is not about the maximization of profits, but sustainability. It is about value.

  • Marshall Gill||

    I've known hundreds of entrepreneurs and with very few exceptions most of them did not start their businesses primarily to make money."

    I haven't had much of an impression one way or the other about Mackey but this quote makes me think that he is a lying sack of shit. Either he doesn't know "hundreds" of entrepreneurs or he doesn't know their primary purpose in starting a business. Either way that bullshit is an obvious lie.

  • KPres||

    I started a business because I thought I could do it better than everybody else I saw was. Making more money is intrinsically linked to that. INOW, I thought to myself "I can make more money because I can do it better than them."

    People that are anti-money are evil ascetics. Money is just stored social value, and not making money means you're not doing anything for society.

  • ||

    Line of the day:

    "Money is just stored social value, and not making money means you're not doing anything for society."

    I am gonna steal that.

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    You would have to be rich to say something like that. Poor man is always about the buck.

  • mauboy_j||

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  • Hugh Akston||

    You bought Mercedes? Fuck you Mauboy_j. We're cool with a lot of things in this community, but slavery is not one of them.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Well, there is the faction that supports voluntary servitude.

  • John||

    I just saw on Linkedin that Tim Cavenaugh is the new executive editor of the Daily Caller. Good for him.

  • ||

    Really? Awesome.

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    ""I think the critics of capitalism have got it in this very small box - that it's all about money," explains John Mackey"

    Yeah, and we're not going to shake that misconception by looking to peddlers of fucking snake oil.

    And I'm not just referring to the organic, BS. Whole Foods also heavily pushes homeopathy and other alternative medicine/New Age bunko as well as anti-pasteurization sentiment.
    Sure, you can rightfully make the defense that he's only responding to the demand of his consumer base, and it's their fault for being uninformed and gullible followers. But then that's hardly not being "all about the money", is it?

  • Pro Libertate||

    That's true, and it approaches fraud. At the very least, there are seriously unsubstantiated claims being made. Which makes me wonder why the FTC isn't busting up the homeopathy companies.

  • Brett L||

    Because homeopathy actually outperforms water, even though it shouldn't. I'm not fucking using it as medical therapy, but it cures everyone who can be cured by the placebo effect, and is totally without side-effect.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Why doesn't that have to be disclosed?

  • Brett L||

    It is. With the "*these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA". Because they are a "natural food product".

  • Pro Libertate||

    That sounds odd to me, knowing how fucking hardcore the FDA and FTC are on unsubstantiated claims.

  • ||

    That doesn't sound odd to ME, knowing how fucking hardcore the FDA and FTC are on unsubstantiated politically disfavored claims.

  • ||

  • Pro Libertate||

    I can hear the music from The Incredible Hulk in my head now.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    It only took 14 years, but Chris Masters has finally figured out how to get himself over.

  • ||

    Really? Note use of "hero mode".

  • CampingInYourPark||

    "And I'm not just referring to the organic, BS. Whole Foods also heavily pushes homeopathy and other alternative medicine/New Age bunko as well as anti-pasteurization sentiment.
    Sure, you can rightfully make the defense that he's only responding to the demand of his consumer base, and it's their fault for being uninformed and gullible followers"

    Sort of like the pied piper of nannies

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    I will give Mackey credit for this: he's enacting the reverse of that "Capitalists will sell the nooses they hang themselves with" clatrap.

  • Brett L||

    Eh. They have a good selection of shit we have to pay even higher prices for here in Tallahassee. I can't wait until they get their store open and put the snooty fucking coop and their usurious prices out of business.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I hear you're getting the next Trader Joe's.

  • Brett L||

    Wow. Then we'd have 4 places with a decent beer selection.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Look at their website to confirm, but I think it might even be this year.

    They claim they can't find a good location in Tampa, which is fucking bullshit, but there you are.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I took a look. Tallahassee isn't on the soon-to-open list, but I know I read about it. They are already in Gainesville, incidentally, which you should take personally as another slap in the face by pro-UF forces.

  • Sevo||

    Brett L| 3.21.13 @ 4:26PM |#
    "Eh. They have a good selection of shit we have to pay even higher prices for here in Tallahassee"

    In SF, we got WFs, Safeway, TJ's, Cal Mart, and local markets, with WFs and Safeway nearest.
    WFs is all about marketing and you're the one to whom the marketing is directed. Grocery marketing is shelf placement and location; notice the expensive products are always at eye level and milk is always in the left rear.
    Look on the lower shelves; bottled bubble water is $1.20 cheaper at WFs than Safeway.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    "Look on the lower shelves; bottled bubble water is $1.20 cheaper at WFs than Safeway."

    WTF? You pay more that $2 for bubbly water?

  • SumpTump||

    Just throw your hands up in the air man!

    www.Anon-Today.tk

  • CampingInYourPark||

    LMFAO...internet meet Aldi...Aldi meet bubbly water drinkers

  • genital warts treatment||

    It’s hard to sort the good from the bad sometimes, but I think you’ve nailed it.

  • An0nB0t||

    Now you lesser anonbots are really trying to give me a bad name.

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  • christacampbell147||

    my roomate's ex-wife makes $80 an hour on the laptop. She has been fired for 7 months but last month her payment was $18225 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more here http://www.fly38.com

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  • Chadwick||

    If you think Julie`s story is cool..., last week my cousins step dad got a cheque for $9876 working eighteen hours a week an their house and the're neighbor's aunt`s neighbour has done this for 10-months and recieved a check for over $9876 in their spare time at their labtop. the tips from this address, http://www.wow92.com

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  • Acfrig||

    This is a very interesting interview. I am really impressed.

  • margaretsusen||

    upto I saw the draft four $7797, I didn't believe that my neighbour woz like actualey taking home money parttime on their laptop.. there aunts neighbour has done this less than fifteen months and resently repaid the mortgage on their appartment and purchased a great new Dodge. this is where I wenthttp://googlejobs.com.qr.net/kgzE

  • Mr. Seeds||

    I worked at Whole Foods for 9 years. He is not being honest at all. He blames the Madison organizing on the store being secluded from the rest of the region. There were other organizing attempts at other stores during the same time. There was one that happened right under Whole Foods International HQ . The new insurance plan did not come about because of the organization efforts, it was because they let the old plan go bankrupt. Which led to organizing attempts. They said they did not realize it was going bankrupt until it was to late. This from a company who is , financially, impeccably run. He blames the organizing effort's failure on the team members coming around and voting the union out. Yes they voted them out, but Whole Foods kept the contract in arbitration for 12 months. They where just as stubborn as the union. Except that during these 12 months, Whole Foods worked to fire the organizers and union sympathizers. Understand that it is not a simple process to unionize. It takes 70% of the employees agreeing to vote on unionization before you can vote to unionize. you vote, if the vote is to organize then it goes into contract negotiation. It takes both parties to agree on a contract. Mackey's blaming the union on being unable to deliver is misleading.

  • Mr. Seeds||

    Now that being said, I am not a John Mackie hater. I have defended his stance on health care and the whole Wild Oats debacle. I think that he is thoughtful. But he is being dishonest when talking about the organization attempts at Whole Foods and what led up to them. It would have respect more if he said "I did everything I could to stop the Unionization of Whole Foods because I believe it would be a detriment to its culture." But then again Whole Foods should have never gone public. Asshole.

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