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How Whole Foods CEO John Mackey Is Leading a Revolution in Health and Business

Business has a much broader positive impact on the world when it is based on a higher purpose.
How Whole Foods CEO John Mackey Is Leading a Revolution in Health and Business
Image credit: Dustin Finkelstein | Getty Images
Guest Writer
President of Billion Dollar Legacy
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

For the past 40 years, Whole Foods cofounder and CEO John Mackey has been leading a movement that has changed how free markets and supermarkets serve society.

Starting Whole Foods in 1980 with only 19 employees to becoming the world’s leader in natural and organic foods, Mackey has not only built a successful company but also championed a culture that is revolutionizing the way we eat while also shifting how entrepreneurs lead companies. I recently asked Mackey what is legacy meant to him. Below are three of my biggest takeaways from his answers -- three ideals we can all learn from as entrepreneurs who want to not only build a profitable business but also make a positive impact on the world.

Related: How the Amazon Whole Foods Acquisition Will Disrupt Food Marketing

1. Mackey built his company’s culture around a higher purpose.

Business has a much broader positive impact on the world when it is based on a higher purpose that goes beyond only generating profits and creating value for shareholders. A higher purpose creates engagement among all stakeholders encouraging organizational commit to that purpose.

For Mackey, his higher purpose was important early on. When he co-founded his first health food store, SaferWay, he wasn’t only thinking about how to make money, he was thinking about how he could help people eat healthier and live longer. Mackey has spent his entire adult life figuring out how to make people healthier. It is this higher purpose that still propels his work today.

“My most important mission has always been to improve people’s health and longevity through selling natural and organic whole foods and that is why I co-founded Whole Foods Market 40 years ago. I believe Whole Foods has been very successful in helping to evolve our food system in many positive and healthy ways, but much more work is needed since chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes have exploded. My recently coauthored two books, “The Whole Foods Diet” and “The Whole Foods Cookbook” clearly express my ideas on how people need to change the way that they eat to prevent chronic diseases and increase their lifespans.”

Clearly, you can see that Mackey is guided by his higher purpose and pursues it with unyielding enthusiasm. Frequently sharing his higher purpose also helped him create a company culture that functions to promote healthy living for all. You can feel this culture every time you visit Whole Foods.

Want to lead your own movement for positive change through your business endeavors? Have a higher purpose that inspires everyone who comes in contact with your business.

Related: The Problem With Whole Foods Is the Doritos It Won't Sell

2. Mackey practices conscious leadership and forward thinking around his higher purpose.

Better leaders promote better companies and ultimately a better world. Strong leaders invoke change and transformation that propels their higher purpose into the future.

Instead of thinking of himself in terms of legacy, Mackey focuses on what he wants to accomplish in the future. Fueled by his higher purpose, he provides the kind of leadership that develops a culture that ensures its purpose and core values endure for generations to come.

“As an entrepreneur, I’m focused on the future and what more I want to accomplish, rather than looking back at what I have already done. My future legacy is therefore not something I think much about.”

Related: 10 Leadership Lessons From Amazon's Massive Success

3. Mackey focuses on serving his stakeholders, not just his shareholders.

One of my favorite quotes from Mackey is this:

"Just as people cannot live without eating, so a business cannot live without profits. But most people don’t live to eat, and neither must businesses live just to make profits."

According to Mackey, conscious business leaders think of more than just their shareholders. They feel their business exists to better the lives of customers, team members, investors, suppliers, their communities, and the environment as a whole. Mackey also believes that this type of leader will breed a conscious form of capitalism that exists to elevate our existence, lift people out of poverty, and create prosperity for all.

“I also feel an ongoing responsibility to help change the framework of how business operates and how capitalism is perceived. We have named our larger movement “Conscious Capitalism” whose stated purpose is “elevating humanity through business”.  My co-authored book “Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business” puts forth our philosophy of higher purpose for business, stakeholder orientation, conscious leadership, and conscious culture which many entrepreneurs will find very valuable.”  

Conscious business leaders like John Mackey, stay focused on achieving their higher purpose, in Mackey’s case helping people live healthier lives while creating organizations that benefit not just shareholders but everyone involved.

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