The Learning Leader Show With Ryan Hawk

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#381: John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods


  • Excellence:
    • Energy – Vitality — “You cannot be lazy”
    • “You need a strong desire to be excellent”
      • Excellent leaders strive for excellence in everything they choose to do
    • Good physical and mental health
    • Honor – “Hold yourself to high standards”
  • John and Rene Lawson raised $45,000 from family and friends and borrowed $10,000 in 1978 to open a small natural foods store called SaferWay in Austin, Texas. When the couple were evicted from their apartment for storing food products in it, they decided to live at the store. Because it was zoned for commercial use, there was no shower stall, so they bathed using a water hose attached to their dishwasher.  Two years later they brought on partners who owned another grocery store and formed Whole Foods Markets.
  • Having high expectations: As a younger person in his early 20’s, John was curious about learning… He loved organic, natural food before it was popular.
  • Revolutions:
    • The running revolution happened in the 1970’s – He got into that. The long runs made him feel fantastic.
    • He became a vegetarian. It helped him feel better, be more alive. He is now a vegan.
  • In 1981, they had to deal with a 100 year flood in Austin. “Renee had to swim out of the store that day.”
    • “Whole Foods should have died that day. That was when I learned about stakeholders.” –> Many people helped them stay in business.
    • “A banker co-signed on the loan without approval because he trusted me. I didn’t find out until later.”
  • He moved to Boulder in 1999 to run — Then the internet bubble popped and it failed.
    • When he moved back to Austin, TX, a coup was afoot… One of his trusted senior leaders was trying to get John fired.
    • John walked through the nearest Whole Foods while preparing to tell the board why he should keep his job… “I get a super high touring that store.” Touring the stores helps you feel the pulse of the company. John thought, “Oh my God, this is the love of my life. This is my purpose.”
      • That’s what he told the board and senior execs and convinced them to let him keep his job.
      • He learned to cultivate and build relationships with his board through that…
  • A “Conscious Leader” =
    • Vision & Virtue – Put purpose first, lead with love
    • Mindset & Strategy – Find win-win solutions. Innovate and create value
    • People & Culture – Constantly evolve the team. Regularly revitalize, continually learn and grow
  • John has elected to take a $1 yearly salary and to forgo any bonus or stock grants since 2007.
  • Hiring: “You’re no better than your team.”
  • “Excellence is continued growth.”
  • “When you stop growing you begin to die.”
  • You need to constantly revitalize yourself:
    • Sleep well
    • Eat healthy food
    • Exercise
  • People are addicted to bad food… But you can change this habit if you’re willing to go through some pain for a month or two. You can teach yourself to enjoy healthy foods. It needs to become a habit.
  • Hiring:
    • Do group interviews – Don’t rely on just one person
    • Looks for:
      • Intelligence (‘that’s the ante to get in’)
      • Emotional Intelligence — “Steve Jobs would not have gotten hired at Whole Foods”
      • Need to work well with others
      • Take responsibility
      • High integrity
      • Chemistry with others and high character
      • Ask, “Who have you helped get promoted?” “Who have you developed?” “How?”
  • The sale to Amazon
    • “We took a plane up to Seattle and met in Jeff’s (Bezos) house. It was very secretive. There was a lot of security around.”
    • “The conversation was like falling in love. They were just regular guys who were very smart.”
    • “Jeff (Bezos) is unpretentious, has a great sense of humor, and is a genius. He’s brilliant.”
  • “It’s like marriage, I love them 98% of the time.”
  • Advice:
    • “Life is an adventure. Go for it.”

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