John Mackey, co-founder and CEO, Whole Foods Market

Summer 2010

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"The creative mind that thinks in terms of systems doesn’t see zero sum solutions. It finds when it meets challenges that that’s a stimulus for creation." —John Mackey, co-founder and CEO, Whole Foods Market

John Mackey didn’t start out with a grand vision as an entrepreneur. In 1978, Mackey was 24 years old, and just wanted to open a store that sold healthy food.

That first store, Safer Way, opened in Austin, Texas with $10,000, eventually became the grocery chain behemoth, Whole Foods Market. Now the world's largest retailer of natural and organic foods with 295 stores, Whole Foods reported sales of more than $2 billion in its most recent quarter.

Mackey, often considered a entrepreneurial visionary, spoke to a group of undergraduates and MBAs at the Mendoza College about "conscious capitalism." This philosophy departs from the traditional business model that views business as a machine for the primary purpose of producing profits. Instead, conscious capitalism recognizes a deeper purpose toward benefiting the human community.

The view also takes into account the interconnectedness of stakeholders, from the supplier to the consumer, to the investor and marketplace. In turn, this speaks to the need for business leaders to be able to think in terms of system synergies, and to use creativity to find new solutions that amount to more than the traditional zero-sum scenarios.

He issued a challenge to a new generation of entrepreneurs to find innovative ideas that move America forward and yet are more inclusive of societal needs.

"I firmly believe that it is creative entrepreneurs and conscious capitalists that will solve, potentially solve, all the world’s problems. It will not be government. It will not be bureaucrats," said Mackey. "It will be creative entrepreneurs and I don’t just mean business entrepreneurs. There are many types of entrepreneurs. There are social entrepreneurs, there can be environmental entrepreneurs, there are spiritual entrepreneurs. We all have the potential to be entrepreneurs."

Mackey’s delivered his talk on March 26 at the Mendoza College as part of the Ten Years Hence Speaker Series, an annual spring lecture series that explores trends likely to affect business and society in the next decade.