John Mackey, co-author of the imperfect but stimulating new book, “Conscious Capitalism” has a fascinating story. As in, you might not expect an impassioned, full-throated defense of the free market to come from a guy who (as he describes it) grew up in “the counterculture movement of the late 1960s and 1970s,” studied “Eastern philosophy and religion,” lived in “an urban co-op/commune,” was “a member of three separate food-co-ops” because he believed “the co-op movement was the best way to reform capitalism because it was based on cooperation instead of competition,” and initially “embraced the ideology that corporations were essentially evil.”
Yet, like others before him (see this celebrated 2008 op-ed by David Mamet, and this recent Alec Baldwin interview of David Brooks), John Mackey would find himself “disillusioned” (a sentiment I can readily understand). In the co-op movement, Mackey writes:
There seemed little room for entrepreneurial creativity; virtually every decision was politicized. The most politically active members controlled the co-op with the own personal agendas, and much more energy was focused on deciding which companies to boycott than on how to improve the quality of products and services for customers. I thought I could create a better store than any of the co-ops I belonged to, and decided to become an entrepreneur to prove it.
This lead Mackey to found a small natural food store called “Safer-Way,” which ultimately became Whole Foods. You may have heard of it.
As Mackey and co-author Rajendra Sisodia describe it, “conscious capitalism” is “a way of thinking about business that is more conscious of its higher purpose, its impacts on the world, and the relationships it has with its various constituencies and stakeholders. It reflects a deeper consciousness about why businesses exist and how they can create more value.
In their view, business exists to change the world, to pursue a higher purpose; as Mackey told (a skeptical) Milton Friedman (a hero of Mackey’s), “Making high profits is the means to the end of fulfilling Whole Foods’ core business mission. We want to improve the health and well-being of everyone on the planet through higher-quality foods and better nutrition, and we can’t fulfill this mission unless we are highly profitable.”
This sense of mission—of needing to, and being able to change the world, of being in the arena and not in the stands—is exactly what attracted me to the business world as well.Read the rest of the post here.