Whole Foods CEO John Mackey doesn’t like the sports and war metaphors typically used in business.
Destroy the competition.
Battle in the trenches.
Survival of the fittest.
He prefers love metaphors. And that’s exactly the way he described the company’s $14 billion sale to Amazon: a courtship.
“We were set up on a blind date,” Mackey said to a crowd of a couple hundred people this week during a talk with Uptake CEO Brad Keywell at Chicago Ideas Week.
“We had a whirlwind romance. Six weeks after that first meeting, we were engaged. But we were not allowed to consummate the marriage for two months,” Mackey said, drawing laughs from the crowd as he referred to the time the Federal Trade Commission took to approve the deal. “It was love at first sight.”
“In most corporations, love is in the corporate closet, hidden away because it’s seen as weak,” he went on.
Mackey isn’t your typical CEO. He rejects many aspects of our traditional ideals of capitalism (he’s currently promoting his book “Conscious Capitalism,” which focuses on how businesses should have a higher sense of purpose and a focus on giving back).
Mackey’s CEO salary has been $1 a year since 2006, and he only made $8 million from the sale to Amazon, good money for most of us but relative peanuts compared to others who made much more from the deal.
Mackey, a college dropout and lover of philosophy, joined a vegetarian co-op when he was 23, which led to his interest in organic and health foods. It was ultimately his inspiration for starting Whole Foods.
“When we started out, honestly we were just a bunch of hippies,” Mackey said. “A bunch of hippies selling food to other hippies.”
Now, those hippies have sold their food to Amazon, a multi-billion dollar tech giant known for its obsession with logistics and efficiency. It’s an odd pairing on the surface, but Mackey insists the two are a match made in heaven.
“I do admire Jeff (Bezos),” he said. “I would never had merged Whole Foods with Amazon if I did not greatly love and admire Amazon.”