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Whole Foods founder John Mackey discusses the Amazon culture clash

October 6, 2020, 10:42 AM UTC

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Good morning.

Whole Foods founder and CEO John Mackey was Ellen McGirt’s and my guest this week on the podcast Leadership Next. We invited him because he is the founder of the conscious capitalism movement, which is dedicated to the belief that every business “has the potential for a higher purpose beyond just maximizing profits” and has a responsibility “to all the stakeholders, not just investors.” You can listen to the full episode here: Apple/Spotify.

I couldn’t resist asking him about his 2017 merger with Amazon, because the two companies were kind of Mars and Venus when it came to corporate cultures. The Harvard Business Review described it as a difference between Amazon’s “tight culture”—valuing consistency and routine—and Whole Foods’ “loose culture” blending idealism and high margins. Culture clash, of course, has caused many a merger to end up on the rocks—including the storied combination of Fortune’s former owner Time Inc. with AOL. (Google “worst mergers in history” for detail.)

Here’s what Mackey had to say on the topic:

“Amazon has some different values than Whole Foods, but they haven’t tried to jam Amazon culture down our throat…It’s like a marriage. You change in a marriage. And you don’t love everything about your spouse. I’m happily married for 30 years, my wife has changed me, I love my wife, but I don’t love everything about my wife. I don’t love everything about Amazon. I love most things about Amazon. But I don’t love everything about Amazon.”

When I asked Mackey if he considered Jeff Bezos to be a “conscious capitalist,” he replied:

“The first thing you learn if you are going to be a conscious leader is you don’t spend a lot of time judging other people’s consciousness.”

And speaking of culture, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon penned a piece for The Dialogue Project, which we are publishing on this morning, calling for more “honest, open conversations” to strengthen our communities and our nation. He said the U.S. “seems more divided than ever on how to approach everything from climate change to the economy.” Solving those problems will require seeing “past our differences” and listening “intently”; “engaging in a difficult, but respectful, dialogue”; and “hearing, and really thinking about, another opinion more than just thinking about how to refute what they said or just giving your own.”

Amen to that, brother. More news below.

Alan Murray


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Holiday travel

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This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.