Interview with Whole Foods’ John Mackey

We’ve mentioned before that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is a fan of Ayn Rand’s novels. Today I stumbled across an interview with Mackey (actually, because the interviewer had linked to our blog) from last year.

In the interview, Mackey discusses his enjoyment of Ayn Rand’s writings, his experiences with libertarians, and why he no longer considers himself a libertarian, per se.

Here’s one relevant excerpt, regarding his (qualified) appreciation for Rand, and his own philosophy of business:

SUNNI: It sounds to me like you aren’t a libertarian of a Randian persuasion — wholly profit-driven and focused on the self; is that accurate?

JOHN: That is correct. I was very inspired by Ayn Rand’s novels like millions of other people have been. However, I don’t agree with some of her philosophies. For example: I don’t think selfishness is a virtue and I don’t believe that business primarily exists to make a profit. Profit is of course essential to any business to fulfill its mission and to be successful and to flourish and I will defend the goodness and appropriateness of profits for business with great passion. However, profit is not the primary purpose of business. Renee and I didn’t begin Whole Foods Market to maximize profits for our shareholders. We began it for three main reasons: we thought it would be fun to create a business; we needed to earn a living; and we wanted to contribute to the well-being of other people.

As the business grew we created our mission statement back in 1985 and have tried to fulfill it ever since. That mission very clearly articulates that we have collective — there’s that word again — responsibilities to all the various constituencies who are voluntarily cooperating with the company. In order of priority these constituencies or stakeholders are: customers; team members; investors; vendors; community; and environment.

We measure our success on how well we meet the needs and desires of all of these various stakeholders. All must flourish or we aren’t succeeding as a business.

You don’t have to agree with everything he says to see that he’s a colorful example of a businessman who’s willing to at least think for himself. He has a pretty good track record of opposing unions, for example:

JOHN: I’ve written a 17-page pamphlet (a chapter in my upcoming book) called Beyond Unions. In it I outline my philosophy towards unions. I can’t do complete justice to all my ideas briefly. Let me just make a few points.

The right to collective bargaining (unionization) is an important legal right. It is important that employees, when they wish to, should have the legal right to form unions. In countries where unions are outlawed we see massive totalitarian exploitation of workers. Solidarity in Poland was a very important force to liberating that country from communism.

No employee should be forced to join a union against their will. Unfortunately in many states in our country, such as California, once a union is voted in by a majority of the employees, employees no longer have free choice in this matter. This closed shop means they must join the union and pay dues to the union whether they wish to or not. If they don’t join then they are fired. I believe open shops should be legal in all states and no employee should be forced against their will, as a condition of employment, to join a union.

See the full interview for more.