Freedom Fest 2014: Whole Foods CEO Says Intellectual Class Has Always Hated Capitalism

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey gave the keynote address at Freedom Fest this afternoon in a speech dedicated to praising capitalism.  At one point in his speech he explained to the audience that the intellectual class has always hated capitalism and chuckled to himself as he said “You didn’t build that,” clearly referring to Obama’s attitude about the free market.The audience laughed with him.

Mackey’s ideas are a little non-traditional.  Whole Foods, a store more identified with  Haight-Ashbury Streets than Wall Street, is a successful company with hundreds of stores all over America and a very respectable-sized work force. I imagine many of Whole Foods best customers have no idea the CEO is such an enthusiast of capitalism.

At least one thousand people sat in the ballroom to listen to Mackey discuss why he thinks business has been misunderstood and how business must proceed in order to be successful. Mackey lamented that the business community has failed in making a case for itself, it has failed to show that capitalism “lifts everyone up, everyone wins.”

He gave the audience a history lesson, explaining that man-kind began to flourish only when capitalism began to take hold and spread. Two-hundred and fifty years ago, 85% of the world lived on $1 or less day. But now, with the spread of capitalism, only 14% live under such constraints. He continued on to say that business creates value for people, it’s ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, noble for elevating people, and heroic for lifting people out of poverty.

Mackey outlined they way business ought to operate in order to be successful. In these times Businesses must have:

1. higher purpose- it’s not just about making money but about the difference a company is trying to make in the world. Purpose refers to value creation, most successful business built on passion not making money. He gave an example of Southwest Airlines who made budget travel possible, making travel accessible to millions of people who could otherwise not fly around the country.

2. stakeholder orientation- customers, suppliers, employees, community all have a stake in the company. Happy employees, are better at serving customers, happy customers do more business, more business makes investors happy.

3. different style of leadership- Ghandi said be the change you want to see. A company must have CEO who is conscious, purpose driven, with integrity. That person must have different kinds of well-developed broad kind of intelligence: analytic, systems, spiritual, emotional. 

4. different culture in workplace -the culture of a business is the living breathing heart, it’s “how we do it around here.” There needs to be more love and conscious of all the elements that make up a company.

Mackey closed by saying “It matters how you make money.”