As anyone who knows NBN understands, we’re not in the habit of defending people who say incredibly stupid things about an incredible simple issue such as national health care. Yet as more and more people consider whether shopping at Whole Foods is like feeding Sheldon Adelson Beluga caviar, it’s important to come to Mackey’s defense even while abhorring his political beliefs. As we noted previously Mackey suffers from hoof in mouth. After all Mackey is the man who told American Public Radio’s daily business show Marketplace that he opened his first store as a way to meet girls. He isn’t someone concerned with his image. Mackey is an admirable and inspiring corporate leader and a lousy political philosopher. Yet even his lousy beliefs, unlike many who opposed Obamacare and are anti-union, are based not on greed or a disregard for the poor, but a sincere if misguided faith in the power of the free market.
As far as his touting Costco and Southwest Airlines as other examples of great employers we aren’t so sure either of them get more than C plus grade and Whole Foods just slightly better. But of course most of the other corporations in America are getting resounding F’s so these companies look good and in fact do good in comparison. Whole Foods’ John Mackey is exemplary as a business leader because he believes in the simple fact that a company is obligated to do more than just pay attention to profits and the bottom line . Too bad so few others do that this is a reason to celebrate.
While much of Whole Foods early growth was through the acquisition of equally strong regional chains — Bread & Circus, Mrs. Gooch’s, Wellspring, Fresh Fields — the performance of its once only national rival Wild Oats (which it acquired in 2007) clearly illustrates that despite Whole Foods enormous success the path wasn’t easy, the choices not clear. Whole Food’s success has been the product of Mackey and his strong leadership team’s vision and ability that literally transformed the way America shops at the top as much as Wal-Mart transformed the bottom of the market. And despite perception to the contrary the company’s wages and benefits are strong, ranks among the best places to work, year after year, executive pay is capped at 19 times that of its average worker and Mackey’s salary has been just $1 a year since 2006 (albeit with lucrative stock options).
In addition Whole Food’s current vogue in Manhattan and cities all over the U.S. wasn’t a slam dunk. The opening of their first store in Manhattan (on 7th Avenue in Chelsea), defied conventional wisdom that rent and other costs would be crippling. Instead Whole Foods transformed urban food retail across America and hundreds of others have followed hastily in their wake. And all along the way Whole Food’s commitment to a wide range of sustainable causes — organic, fair trade and local, among others — has been been unparalleled. Both by expanding consumer demand and through funding, Mackey and company have provided vital support to scientific research into organic farming, aided hundreds, possibly thousands of local companies and dramatically increased the market for fair trade goods in every retail channel.
Most of us over 45 remember when employees of large corporations received pensions and many hourly wage earners were paid more than what’s considered decent pay today. Today that’s not the case. And yes, not too long ago many United Food & Commercial Workers (grocery clerks, cashiers and others) received wages above $20 an hour, something that many of today’s best employers don’t often come close too. While these memories remind us of what could be, let’s not diminish the praise due good employers, even if they fall short of what we remember was a good job. If more corporate big shots followed Mackey’s lead we might not have the strong middle class of years ago, but we’d be far closer to it than we are now.
Post a comment and let NBN know what you think. And if you’re not convinced that Mackey is worth defending tell us why not and we’ll tell you more about why he is. And if you missed the whole brouhaha you can catch the details here from NPR. as well as Mackey’s 2010 essay on Conscious Capitalism for the Huffington Post . And while we shared the link above here it is again if you