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January 21, 2010

Getting In Your Own Way: Are you your company's best asset?

I finished reading a great article this weekend in the New Yorker about John Mackey who is the CEO of Whole Foods. The article is fascinating on several levels: the contradiction behind the whole foods brand as the founder is not who you think he would be; the overall state of the grocery market, especially in light of the Walmarts of the world now carrying organic product and products; and the story behind the company.

What I found particularly remarkable was my reaction to John Mackey. Throughout the article I flip flopped from thinking that the guy is a total ego-maniacal kook to a clever, savvy genius. Regardless, he is undoubtedly a unique person and a successful entrepreneur. And he has good instincts despite the several notable hiccups he has experienced along the way. It has taken a lot to build Whole Foods into the business it is today, and John Mackey is a huge part of that.

It is clear that his personality and quirkiness have created trouble, from bad press to political boycotts to SEC investigations. It is not hard to argue that he gets in his own way. The question, by extension, is whether he will get in the way of Whole Foods growth in the future. Many are shocked that he is still holds the position of CEO, since Whole Foods is a publicly traded company.

But on the other hand, it is possible that all things considered he is still an asset to the company, and perhaps the overall category of whole foods shopping. Despite the fact that I disagree with many of his political opinions, his distinct personality makes an impact. Sure, he is controversial and unexpected, but on the other hand he is also a pioneer who has significantly contributed to getting the public to view “whole foods” as chic instead of crunchy.

While you can argue about whether that is a good thing, it remains a fact that John Mackey is high profile and has brought a certain amount of celebrity to the industry. And, I believe that this status and profile has been directed influenced and elevated by his personality.

Even in the midst of a media circus, John Mackey is someone you have a reaction to, someone people talk about and case in point, someone people write about.

So perhaps rather than getting in his own way, he is really paving the way.

posted by Amy Abrams

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