What Whole Foods CEO Would Advise His “Younger Self” to Do

John Mackey is an entrepreneur who has built his very successful business with a genuine eye on his core values. His journey to leading today’s Whole Foods is an interesting one. What began as one store in Austin Texas, is now close to 400 outlets employing  80,000 staff and grossing over $12 million.

“So John,” asked the interviewer in yesterday’s Washington Post, “if you could go back to those early years and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?”

Having read the full interview about his story, I was really ready to hear how he would answer this question. Here is an edited version of Mackey’s reply:

“…your organization is no better than the team you put in place around you. It all comes down to the quality of your people.

…my biggest mistakes were related to people, whether it was putting my trust in the wrong people, being slow to recognize that someone was in over his or her head, not putting enough premium on individuals who were aligned with the company’s philosophy.

So, I would tell my younger self to pay better attention to the people you promote to leadership positions.”

Mackey’s number one worry in the early years was, not surprisingly, cash flow and not burning too quickly through the investments mostly from friends and family. That’s about survival and then sustainability of the enterprise as it grows. But clearly behind this comes the people you hire and, most importantly, the people you promote into those leadership positions that can boost or tank your business.

Do you have, in the immortal words of author Jim Collins, the right people “on the bus?” And is your top team (dare I call them your “bus drivers”?) attending to the quality and readiness of people in your leadership pipeline?

John Mackey’s response alludes to several key elements of developing a sustaining cadre of leaders:

  • people of quality
  • people you can trust
  • people who are aligned with the mission, who “get it”
  • and taking action NOW on people who can’t seem to rise to the challenge of the job

© 2014 – 2016, Ian Cook. All rights reserved.

Ian Cook About Ian Cook

Ian Cook, presenter and consultant, works with managers who want to increase their effectiveness as a leader and build a stronger team. To book Ian for a training seminar, team facilitation or keynote presentation, call toll-free at: 1-888-FULCRUM (385-2786) or e-mail: ian@888fulcrum.com. For more articles and book reviews of interest to managers please go to: www.888fulcrum.com.