Whole Foods CEO concerned about the whole economy

February 01, 2013

Market Watch

As CEOs go, John Mackey at Whole Foods Market Inc. is a pretty good guy.

He works for $1 a year. He doesn’t loot his company with excessive perks and bonuses. His flies Southwest Airlines. He wears Patagonia. Forbes has ranked his company on its “Best Places To Work” list for 15 years. His stock WFM -1.21%  has skyrocketed back from the last recession, from about $8 to about $96 a share, proving his critics wrong. And along the way, he’s made lasting changes to the way Americans think about food.

So why does he get such a hard time?

“Occasionally somebody asks me a question, and before I can think about it, I just blurt out the truth from my perspective,” he told me.

He’s apologized several times for calling Obamacare “fascism” in a recent interview with National Public Radio. He conceded he wasn’t sensitive to all the connotations of the term. But he’s still got some customers calling for boycotts. Some customers are also upset about another remark Mackey made that global warming “isn’t necessarily bad.”

I don’t agree with either of these positions, but let’s face it, any government program that forces its citizens to buy something can rhetorically be called fascism. And as for global warming not being so bad, well, at least we won’t have to shovel our driveways.

“I’m not trying to upset people,” Mackey said. “If people ask me a question, I try to give an honest answer. One reason people don’t trust business people is because they don’t think they tell the truth. It’s the same reason they don’t trust politicians. They are always being spun. Nobody likes to be spun.”

Mackey offered me plenty of honest answers before taking the stage at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business earlier this week. He’s out discussing his book: “Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.” One of the first steps, he said, is to quit bashing business leaders and capitalism.