Research Paper: John Mackey: Whole Foods Leader

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[. . .] Whole Foods, after anti-trust regulations were resolved, eventually acquired rival Wild Oats to expand across the Midwest. When Whole Foods was starting out, Mackey was told: "You know, I really think you're just selling hippie food to hippies. I gotta tell ya that I don't think it's gonna work. But if it does work, Safeway's gonna just steal it from you and you're not going to be able to exist anyway" (Paumgarten 2010: 1). As more and more standardized stores, like supermarkets and Wal-Mart sell organic foods, this fear is becoming more real than ever.

However, Whole Foods has survived. Mackey has used a combination of personal power and organizational design to achieve this (Schutte, Chapter 13, 2010: Slide 16). Despite his rather lordly manner and hyper-competitive view of the niche marketplace that his company inhabits, he understands that the personalized nature of natural foods shopping, and customer's desires for specific products tailored to local needs. Clearly, a "key contributor to Whole Foods' success, and to its reputation and self-image as a progressive business, was the company's structure. Whole Foods is divided into a dozen regions, which in some ways operate almost as separate businesses, to encourage creativity and a sense of ownership...The stores, too, have a high degree of autonomy" (Paumgarten 2010: 1).

The store's model is also heavily team-based. There are regional oddities: Venice, California, has a kombucha bar; Portland, Maine, is the only store that carries live lobster; in Dallas, you can hit "The Spa by Whole Foods Market" while a team member shops for you. The team is the fundamental Whole Foods work unit. Teams participate in selecting their bosses and their products, and are accountable for their performance. Teams are judged at Whole Foods -- and rewarded -- based upon collective performance, so it is imperative that teams self-select people with whom they work well, and who are high-quality team performers. Although libertarian Mackey famously came out against nationalized healthcare in a Wall Street Journal editorial, stating that he believed that ultimately benevolent employers should provide health insurance, he has practiced what he has preached, and ensured that all team members receive substantial benefits as well. Keeping workers happy is an essential part of attracting high-quality people to the company and ensuring that at every level, customers have a pleasant shopping experience.

Even at the executive level, Mackey has been willing to delegate to other members when he genuinely believes they possess superior skills to himself. "For the past 10 years, a tight knit team of five senior executives have functioned as a sort of CEO committee, collectively making decisions on strategy, finances and other company matters. Despite the fact that he's long been the public face of the company, Mackey insists he's not the final authority in the group" (Gaar 2010). Upon matters on which he is passionate, like the central vision of the organization and its expansion plans, Mackey is unwilling to make concession. However, on the managerial 'path' to achieve those goals, he is far more flexible.

Organizational change

"There are many things that force change in an organization such as the nature of the workforce, technology, competition, economic forces, social trends, and world politics" (Schutte, Chapter 18, 2010: Slide 4). Whole Foods has had to cope with one particularly serious manifestation of such challenges, namely that it has, to some degree, become a victim of its own success at changing American food habits, and anticipating such food changes. Americans are becoming more and more concerned about the impact poor eating habits have had upon their health and waistlines. There has been a proliferation of allergies, and a greater interest in low-impact consumption and the vegetarian lifestyle. These movements have supported Whole Foods' expansion but have also caused Wal-Mart and other major retailers to offer organic foods at cheaper prices (Fishman 2010).

Whole Foods, however, has managed to flourish and survive. It is a seeming paradox: a corporation that is devoted to thinking and eating on a small, low-impact scale. A corporation led by an eccentric and uncompromising libertarian that is willing to make strategic concessions to its CEO's ideology while still holding true to his values. A team-based environment led by a highly individualistic leader. It has survived and continued to show a profit during the recession because customers genuinely 'like' to shop at Whole Foods. The long descriptions of where food comes from, the well-trained employees, and the customized nature of the shopping experience indicate that it is led with a passion for food, and its loyal shoppers and followers appear to be willing to follow Mackey's lead.

Works Cited

"About Whole Foods." Whole Foods. [6 Dec 2011]

Fishman, Charles. The anarchist's cookbook. Fast Company. 2004. [6 Dec 2011]

Gaar, Brian. "At Whole Foods team management goes all the way." [6 Dec 2011]

American Statesman. Retrieved December 6, 2011 at

"Our core values."… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

John Mackey: Whole Foods Leader.  (2011, December 7).  Retrieved July 17, 2019, from

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"John Mackey: Whole Foods Leader."  7 December 2011.  Web.  17 July 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"John Mackey: Whole Foods Leader."  December 7, 2011.  Accessed July 17, 2019.