Campus & Community

Whole Foods CEO shares business lessons at campus talk

Speaking as part of the Voices of Experience series, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey came to the Daniels College of Business on Jan. 28 to share some of the lessons he writes about in his 2013 book, Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.

Talking about one of the book’s central tenets, valuing stakeholders, Mackey told a story about the early days of Whole Foods, when a powerful flood wiped out the company’s first store.

“What happened the next day really changed our destiny, and it changed my thinking about business forever,” Mackey said. “We had dozens of customers show up the next day and help us clean up the store, and a company that should have died was saved by its stakeholders. Our team members worked for free, our customers helped us clean up the store, our bank loaned us more money, the investors put more capital in, our suppliers gave us new inventory on credit, and somehow, miraculously, our business got reopened 30 days later.”

That’s when, Mackey said, he realized that stakeholders matter.

“They are the lifeblood of a company,” he said. “I never forgot that lesson.”

Other fundamentals of Mackey’s “conscious capitalism” include discovering a business’ higher purpose, creating cultures that empower employees, and practicing “servant leadership.”

“We need a different kind of leadership,” he said, “not a leadership that’s there to line its own pockets and extract as much money as possible out of the business and get all the perks of being in a corporation.”

Mackey urged Daniels students to start businesses right after graduation and not risk letting their passion cool.

“Entrepreneurs are on fire,” he said. “You want to start a business? Do it. Now. Building a business is so much fun. You’ll learn so much, you meet such interesting people — I’ve loved it. Most people that start businesses have an interesting life — that I can almost assure you. So if you want to do that, go for it. Life is an adventure.”

Watch the entire video of Mackey’s speech at the Daniels YouTube channel.


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