Whole Foods CEO Makes Case for Capitalism
"Capitalism is the greatest economic system in the world, but we're
in danger of losing it," said John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole
Foods Market. Mackey addressed a full house of 560 at Regent
University's Executive Leadership Series luncheon on Tuesday, Feb. 26.
Held each month, ELS brings together businessmen and women in Hampton
Roads to hear from business and leadership experts.
"We can probably eliminate abject poverty in the next 50 years
if we continue to promote principles of economic freedom," Mackey
explained. Unfortunately, "capitalism is often blamed for the world's
problems when it in fact holds many of the solutions."
In light of this realization, Mackey co-authored the new book, Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business,
which presents fundamental principles to help businesses prosper
financially while generating value and promoting integrity, compassion
and global responsibility.
Mackey's case for capitalism is rooted in historical evidence. "Humanity
has been dirt poor for most of its history," he said, citing statistics
that show a 1000 percent income increase per capita since the
Industrial Revolution. When the Declaration of Independence was signed,
85 percent of the world lived on less than $1 a day. That number today,
with an equivalent $1, is 16 percent.
"Business people are the heroes of humanity's story, not the villains,"
Mackey argued. He said that the current approval rating for big business
in the United States is just 19 percent, "yet business is transforming
our lives and allowing humans to flourish more than they've ever
This flourishing, however, is directly proportionate to the level of
economic freedom a society has, Mackey said. Once the reigning nation on
the Economic Freedom Index, the United States fell to No. 3 around the
year 2000 and has since taken a plummet to No. 18. "As economic freedom
declines in this nation, so does our prosperity, because the two are
completely intertwined," he explained.
Though business is often portrayed in the media and intellectual arenas
as selfish, greedy and exploitative, "business people create value for
the people who trade with them," Mackey said. These traders include
customers, employees, suppliers and investors.
Most business people agree with Mackey's statement, but according to
him, businesses do not effectively defend the principles of capitalism.
Many excuse greed and exploitation as a trade-off for the good business
brings to society.
But Mackey argued the need for a new defense: "We have to create a
fundamental argument for capitalism that is ethical—one that relies on
what is good and true and beautiful." Drawing principles from his book,
he outlined what that argument might look like.
"The first tenet of conscious capitalism is higher purpose," he
explained. "Every business has to make money, but that doesn't mean
that's its purpose. ... If we're going to improve capitalism's approval
rating, it's going to start with businesses articulating their
Second, Mackey suggested, "conscious businesses must create value for
every stakeholder." This is a principle he's walked out as Whole Foods'
leader: the company sits at No. 32 on Fortune's list of 100 best places to work.
"Business is not a zero-sum game," Mackey explained. "Everyone can win.
In fact, if they're not, you're not conducting business intelligently."
The third tenet of conscious capitalism is leadership. "Conscious
leadership has to result from the right motivation," Mackey said. "We
need leaders who are servants; who have higher emotional, spiritual and
These leaders create a culture of love, care and compassion in their
organizations in order to promote human flourishing, he explained. These
organizations are T.A.C.T.I.L.E., promoting Trust, Authenticity,
Caring, Transparency, Integrity, Learning, and Egalitarianism.
"If we can create these kinds of organizations, we can transform the
world in the 21st century," Mackey claimed. "We can create a paradise of
wealth through business, and that is part of the human destiny."
Mackey closed by encouraging the audience to look to the
younger generation. "I have great hope for our future in America because
I have hope in the young," he said. "They are finally starting to
realize that you can do good and do well."
Learn more about ELS and register for the next luncheon, the South Hampton Roads Mayor's Forum, to be held Monday, March 18, 2013.
Mindy Hughes, Public Relations
Phone: 757.352.4095 Fax: 757.352.4888