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Getting personal with Whole Foods CEO John Mackey

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Co-CEO and Co-founder of Whole Foods John Mackey and the company he built has made an enormous impact on the American diet, the organic food industry.

Mackey is considered one of the most influential advocates in the organic food movement. If you don't shop there, it's likely where you shop has somehow been influenced by his push for transparency in the products we buy and better ingredients in the food we eat.

"Whole Foods has always stood for transparency. People have the right to know what they are eating and what they are buying," Mackey said.

His latest move is setting a 2018 date to require all suppliers to list whether their products contain GMO's or genetically modified organisms. Whole Foods will be the first national grocery chain to do so.

But who Mackey is now and what he stands for is a far cry from his childhood.

"I did not grow up eating a healthy diet. I grew up eating a standard American diet, processed foods, lot of hamburgers and French fries. I was a picky eater. I didn't eat vegetables when I was a kid," he said.

Everything began to change for Mackey when he moved into a vegetarian co-op.

"I wasn't a vegetarian at the time but that really was the beginning of my awakening of my food consciousness. I learned how to cook. I learned about natural and organic food," he said.

But he grew frustrated with co-ops claiming they seemed more interested in who to boycott.

"So I hatched an idea one day that maybe I could do my own store," Mackey said.

In 1980, Mackey and his then girlfriend Renee had $45,000 of the $50,000 needed to open a store. They called it Safer Way. It's now Cabelli's School in Austin. It lasted two years. They slept upstairs and ran business downstairs. That's when his politics shifted.

"I was now one of the bad guys. I was a greedy business man yet we were losing money and we weren't paying ourselves anything. Customers wanted lower prices. Team members thought wages were way too low," Mackey said.

But Mackey intended to open a different kind of business one more caring about its employees.

After re-locating and changing the name to Whole Foods, he experienced another setback, the flood of 1981.

"The flood taught me about stake holders," he said. "Customers helped clean up the store. Employees worked around the clock for free."

It was that moment, this CEO learned business is about relationships and taking care of employees.

It was the beginning of his road to being a "conscious capitalist". It's the title of his new book where Mackey encourages businesses to look beyond profits.

"Every business has a potential to have a higher purpose besides making money," Mackey said.

Mackey calls it a no brainer.

"Happy team members result in happy customers…results in happy investors –viola, your business flourishes and is successful," he said.

Capitalism with compassion that allows innovation and creativity.

"It allows the failed experiment to be thrown out and the successful ones to be replicated --what kind of experimentations are we doing in healthcare or education for that matter? Virtually none," he said.

For the critics who say that's an easy statement to make while running a $12 billion a year business, Mackey has this to say, "There will always be those cynical people who say it's all about money.

Perhaps for them it is all about money. It isn't all about money for me. It isn't all about money for Whole Foods. It isn't all about money for most entrepreneurs who create businesses."

Mackey isn't afraid to speak his mind. He has his opinions and stands by them.

"I'm who I am. I believe what I believe," he said.

That goes for his 2009 op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal.

"President Obama, he asked for suggestions on how to improve our healthcare and I took the President at his word --wrote an op-ed piece…here's what I think we otta do," Mackey said.

His statements about healthcare made pre-Obamacare calling for fewer government regulations and more competition were polarizing.

"I think everything I said is true and in the long term will be proven correct. I don't think what we are going to do is going to work. Healthcare is not going to go down. It's rocketing up the costs," he said.

In fact, Mackey says 80% of healthcare dollars spent today are on avoidable diseases.

"Heart disease, diabetes, auto immune diseases, stroke, even cancer are extremely correlated to diet and cancer there's not going to be a vaccine for cancer. There's not going to be a pill you can take that reverses heart disease. These are things we do to ourselves through our diet through our lifestyle," he said.

And before you say I can't afford that, he says think again.

"Bags of potatoes chips which are expensive but potatoes are not expensive," he said.

He says the healthiest foods in the world are not expensive.

"I always want to tell people you can eat the healthiest diet possible and not spend more than $3 a day per person," he said.

"Poor people can afford to eat healthy foods. That's the truth. They just don't know how to do it," he said.

Mackey remains on a mission to teach and reach others to show them how.

Whole Foods is self-insured and employees get discounts based on their health.

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