A three-story building on 8th and Rio Grande in Austin, Texas, is the birthplace of a business whose impact on American society has been nothing short of phenomenal, and whose next goal is to effect change on your business.
You may not be familiar with John Mackey, but you will. In fact, many believe he will someday be considered as much a pioneer as Microsoft founder Bill Gates, though his expertise is not computers and technology, it’s food and people.
In 1978 Mr. Mackey opened a small health-food store and restaurant in Austin. In 1980 he opened Whole Foods Markets, a business that has grown to 157 stores in 28 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and Great Britain.
In the 25 years since, Mr. Mackey’s company has become, in the eyes of many business consultants, a blueprint for success in modern business. The company has a set of written core values, and a set of unusual management rules that makes Whole Foods an odd but effective workplace. For instance, after four weeks of work, the fate of all new employees rests with co-workers. Those co-workers vote whether to keep a new employee or not, and a two-thirds yes vote is needed to join the company permanently. Employee bonuses are based on the performance of specific teams in the stores. How productive has the team been against goals? Teams that perform well share in the company’s profit, so people vote for new employees who are going to help everyone make more money.
With Whole Foods’ success—it’s a $3.7 billion corporation—comes the clout in the marketplace to effect change. Whole Foods sells meat and dairy products, but Mr. Mackey, a vegan (he doesn’t eat food produced from animals, including dairy products), believes in using his influence and buying power to change the way animals are raised. He wants to ensure that the meat sold by Whole Foods comes from animals that have been treated with a measure of dignity before being slaughtered.
Last month, Whole Foods announced it would establish the Animal Compassion Foundation to further raise the bar beyond strict animal welfare standards already required by the company. The company will allocate 5 percent of total company sales to help establish the Foundation.
“By creating the Foundation, Whole Foods Market is pioneering an entirely new way for people to relate to farm animals—with the animals’ welfare becoming the most important goal,” Mr. Mackey said.
In December 2003, Whole Foods Market began creating its enhanced farm animal treatment standards that are to be completed by 2008 for every species sold by the company. Whole Foods Market and animal welfare advocacy groups will jointly develop the standards. Among these groups are: The Humane Society of the United States; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; Viva! USA; Animal Welfare Institute; and Animal Rights International. (For more information visit www.wholefoodsmarket.com)
Mr. Mackey’s determination to raise Whole Foods’ standards for animal care may rock the livestock industries. True, the natural- and organic-foods business remains a small slice of America’s food system. But production and sales are growing at more than 20 percent per year, and organic milk and produce can be found in nearly every supermarket coast to coast.
“Twenty years from now, factory farms will be illegal in the United States,” Mr. Mackey said last year.
If he’s right, and if he is the business pioneer some people believe him to be, Whole Foods Markets’ Animal Compassion Foundation may be just the beginning of changes you’ll encounter in the coming years. Passing the Whole Foods’ test may become the price of entry into many marketplaces.