Having worked at a vegetarian co-op in Austin, Texas, in the 1970s, Mackey dropped out of college to set up his first health food store in 1978.

He lived above the store, called SaferWay, and after two years merged with a competitor to form Whole Foods.

Initial setbacks included a flood in 1981 that ruined the business’s whole inventory – $400,000 worth of stock was lost – but the shop reopened after only 28 days. The company expanded fast, growing out of Texas by 1988, opening its 100th store in 1999, and opening in the UK in 2004. Along the way, Whole Foods has been distinguished by a taste for aggressively acquiring competitors, with rapid growth.

Key achievements

  • Taking Whole Foods to revenues of almost $20bn, with a workforce of almost 60,000 people – while never compromising on the core values of the business.
  • Setting the standards for humane animal treatment in retail, strongly advocating organic food.
  • In 2006, Mackey reduced his salary to $1 a year, donated his stock portfolio to charity, and set up a £100,000 relief fund for staff, set caps on executive pay and continued working for the company for free.
  • Ernst & Young Entrepreneur for the Year 2003.

Lessons for your store

  1. It’s okay to put ethics first – sustainably and ethical produce can be profitable.
  2. Prioritise staff – Mackey motivates employees by caring for them.
  3. Business and advocacy of political causes can overlap.

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