Why did John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods make such an unexpected and rapid deal with Amazon this month? Alison van Diggelen’s recent conversation with Mackey reveals a glimpse inside the head of this provocative and feisty leader.
Days after my interview with John Mackey at the Commonwealth Club on May 1st, he began a courtship with Amazon that led to an agreed acquisition of Whole Foods by the global commerce giant. The courtship is something Mackey describes as “truly love at first sight.” Our conversation took place as news circulated of a potential bid by Albertsons grocery chain and reveals some of the motivations behind Mackey running so fast into the arms of Amazon.
During our tumultuous conversation – we were interrupted several times by angry PETA protesters – we also discuss his book “The Whole Foods Diet”; how a PETA member helped change his views on animal products; and what he thinks is the most environmentally conscious single act we should all do.
“How many of you are parents out there? So what wouldn’t you do for your children? You’d do almost anything wouldn’t you? That’s how I feel about Whole Foods….it’s my child, I love it. I’ve given almost 40 years of my life to nurture and develop it. There’s almost nothing I’d not do to protect it, to help it to flourish.” John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods
Listen to the podcast: (this segment starts @55:45)
Here’s a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity:
Alison van Diggelen: As a public company, how can you balance long term goals such as healthy eating with short term goals like maximizing profits for this quarter?
John Mackey: Whole Foods now has shareholder activists who want to force us to sell the company. The very short term profit mentality has entered into our shareholder base. Whole Foods has always had this purposeful long term perspective. We’re now faced with the biggest challenge in the history of our company. Can we stay independent to fulfill our mission or are we going to be sold out to the highest bidder for short term gains? Stay tuned…
Alison van Diggelen: Is Whole Foods something that you are personally attached to forever? Do you anticipate on your deathbed you’ll still be CEO of Whole Foods?
John Mackey: I hope not. I’ll be dead pretty soon. (laughter)
Alison van Diggelen: Do you have a retirement plan in place?
John Mackey: I’m moving to Florida… No! I haven’t taken any compensation at all from the company for 10 years. I’m doing it because I just love it. It’s the purpose of my life. I’m a servant leader. I’m just trying to serve Whole Foods and help it to prosper.
How many of you are parents out there? So what wouldn’t you do for your children? You’d do almost anything wouldn’t you? That’s how I feel about Whole Foods….it’s my child, I love it. I’ve given almost 40 years of my life to nurture and develop it. There’s almost nothing I’d not do to protect it, to help it to flourish. However, there comes a time when daddy has to leave and that time is not yet, I hope…
Alison van Diggelen: So you’re going to hang on to it till…
John Mackey: I’m not hanging on to it…If it’s appropriate, what my heart calls me to do, I’ll continue to lead it. There will come a time when it’s not appropriate any longer and I believe I’ll have the wisdom and the grace to recognize it and I’ll leave. But I don’t think that time is right now.
Continue listening to the podcast to discover Mackey’s tips for entrepreneurs, how Whole Foods was almost destroyed by a flood; and his challenge to Nobel Prize winning economist, Milton Friedman.
On environmentalism (@55:00 in the podcast) :
If people think of themselves as environmentalists, that would entail completely eliminating the consumption of animal foods. That’s the most environmentally conscious single act you could do.
On how Mackey reconciles libertarian stance with government action on climate change (@57:00 in the podcast)
We need government regulations. The government is the umpire that sets certain standards to make sure that we have a good society. I’m not an anarchist…I believe in government that’s well defined and stays within its appropriate boundaries. Certainly setting environmental standards is a very important function of good and responsible government. It’s always a matter of what standards, to what degree.
Alison van Diggelen: Do feel part of the role of the president is to advocate for action on climate change?
John Mackey: When I go out in public that there are really four topics I try to not to talk about: politics, religion, sex or GMOs. You’re guaranteed to make people angry. I can’t afford any more protesters wherever I go.
Find out more
NPR’s How Will Things Change For Shoppers After Amazon Buys Whole Foods?
Love at first sight – Analysis by Fortune
Donald Trump has his share of critics, but which form of criticism is more effective? Today, we contrast the subtle rebuke of Donald Trump by Pope Francis with that of Vicente Fox (the 55th President of Mexico) who recently delivered the F-bomb twice. You guessed it, we were discussing Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico.
Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues reports for the BBC’s Business Matters.
Although Pope Francis was full of smiles today as he met with Donald Trump at the Vatican, the Pope delivered a subtle rebuke by gifting him a copy of his Encyclical on Climate Change. It delivers a call to action on climate change and rebukes “the denial” of skeptics. Pope Francis sparred with Candidate Trump during the 2016 election campaign, and even then, his rebuke was loaded but polite.
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel,” Pope Francis in Mexico, February 2016
By contrast, when I met the 55th President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, he wasn’t nearly so polite or subtle.
“Sr. Trump can build as many walls as he wants, as high and as beautiful, as modern and technological, but he has to know, very clear: that Mexico and me, we’re not paying for that fuckin’ wall. We will never pay for that fuckin’ wall.” Vicente Fox, Mexico’s 55th President, April 2017
Here’s my report for the BBC World Service. Listen to the BBC World Service Podcast (@33:00 in the podcast)
Here’s a transcript of our conversation and my report (edited for length and clarity):
The BBC’s Fergus Nicoll: We’re going to talk about ‘The Wall’ here on Business Matters…Conspicuously has not appeared inDonald Trump’s prospective spending bill. Today’s perspective comes from south of the border because Alison has been talking with a former President of Mexico who has some feisty views on the subject. Alison take it away…
Alison van Diggelen: Vicente Fox was the President of Mexico between 2000 and 2006. He was in Silicon Valley recently and I had the opportunity to talk with him about the border wall and immigration. He’s a fierce critic of President Trump and he sees himself as ‘a shadow cabinet.’ He feels his job is to call Donald Trump out on what he calls ‘his mistakes and crazy policy errors.’ He calls Trump’s proposed wall with Mexico ‘a racist monument.’ Here’s the clip…
Vicente Fox: Sr. Trump can build as many walls as he wants, as high and as beautiful, as modern and technological, but he has to build it on U.S. territory and he has to know, very clear: that Mexico and me, we’re not paying for that fuckin’ wall. We will never pay for that fuckin’ wall.
Alison van Diggelen: And those who want to take part in building it…do you have a message for them?
Vicente Fox: If they are Mexican corporations, they will automatically become traitors to our beliefs, traitors to our roots, traitors to our nation…
Like Trump, Fox was an outsider and a businessman before becoming President. He talked later (with Gloria Duffy) about the business perspective of being President:
Vicente Fox: Moving from the corporate world where you are the boss, it’s your word that counts and you instruct what has to be done and people follow or they’re going to be fired. So when you think you can do that in politics, you’re committing the worst mistake in your life. It’s a totally different world.
In the world of politics you have checks and balances, you have to be convincing, your vision has to be shared by your followers. You represent the people so you have to go along with people…you don’t discriminate, you take everybody as a human being with the same rights and opportunities.
Bonus Material (this interview segment didn’t make the final cut):
Alison van Diggelen: And those who want to take part in building it…do you have a message for them?
Vicente Fox: …Those greedy companies in the US that are moving fast to present their projects, I tell them:
Don’t lose your money…that guy doesn’t have the money to pay for it and US Congress will never approve building a wall which is a waste of money. US citizens are not willing to pay with their taxes for that waste of money. Everybody will agree: those $35Billion that this guy wants to disperse should be much better used in investing then to create jobs in North America, in Mexico, and Central America…
To attend the problem of migration, you have to go to the roots, not to the final outcome of migration. The problem can be solved where it originated. Mexico, U.S. and Canada, we can go create the jobs, opportunities in Central America…With $35Billion you can create 10 million direct jobs for Central Americans. So then they don’t have to migrate to the US. I’m sure they prefer their tacos, their moles (guacamole etc), and jalapeños than hot dogs and burgers they’ll come to eat here.
My interview with Vicente Fox was recorded at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, where Fox appeared on stage with Club President, Gloria Duffy.
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Hear the word drone and you’ll likely think of military predator drones: forces of death and destruction. But what about drones as a force for restoration: emergency relief, education or even saving the planet?
I explored the future of drones at the San Francisco Bay Area Maker Faire, on assignment for the BBC World Service; and spoke with drone experts from GoogleX, OpenROV and even….R2D2. The latter was one of my toughest interviews ever. Next time, I’ll bring a droid translator.
My report aired today on BBC’s Tech Tent. Listen to the podcast here or below (starts @17:30)
Here’s a transcript of the report:
R2D2 sets the scene (translations welcome via Twitter)
van Diggelen: I’m here at the SF Bay Area Maker Faire, a “show and tell” gathering of tech enthusiasts, hobbyists, artists and engineers. You could say I’m here to meet my maker… to explore drones designed not for destruction but to make the world a safer, more egalitarian, greener place. Here’s Adem Rudin, who works at GoogleX.
Rudin: This is Project Wing. We’re doing drones for delivery and our end goal is to deliver anything to anyone, anywhere and do it quickly.
We’re trying to build a platform that people can use in whatever way they can dream up…In 2014, we went to the Outback, near Brisbane and met up with a couple of farmers out there, operated for about a week, delivering bottled water, food, two-way radios…
van Diggelen: Does it have some kind of attachment you can put things in?
Rudin: The package is on the underside and when we want to deliver, we bring the aircraft into a hover and actually winch the package down to the customer waiting on the ground.
van Diggelen: It looks a bit like a stingray…
Rudin: We tried to make it look friendly…unobtrusive and it also is fairly quiet up in the air…
van Diggelen: When you see what’s going on in Nepal…do you see that being a future potential application for this drone?
Rudin: Yes … It would be a very quick, very low cost way to get out, take aerial photographs of disaster areas and deliver emergency supplies directly to people.
van Diggelen: Since this is one of the secretive GoogleX projects, Rudin was unable to give me a timeline for when we might see these Google drones filling our skies.
Audio: sound of bubbles, submarine drone reaching surface, diving down again
van Diggelen: The beauty of Maker Faire is discovering what’s just round the corner. I found Zack Johnson standing by a huge paddling pool operating a submarine drone – about the size of a shoebox.
He’s the project manager for an underwater drone called OpenROV that allows anyone to channel their inner Jacques Cousteau. (Check out OpenROV Founder, David Lang’s TED talk).
Johnson: It goes down to about 75 meters and films live video that goes back to the shore and you control it either with an Xbox controller or a USB joystick or with a laptop.
There’s basically two things stopping people becoming Jacques Cousteau. One is price… The other one is know-how.
van Diggelen: Johnson’s DIY kit sells for $900 to a global market. The company supports an international community of users who share their expeditions online.
Johnson: We call it Open Explorer: it’s a web platform for sharing expeditions. There are people who’re using ROVs to look for sunken tombs, buried treasure, marine archaeology, water sampling, coral reef monitoring…
There are some academic applications. Especially regarding coral reefs. That is a big focal point for the environmental movement right now because it’s a great litmus for the health of the ocean.
van Diggelen: So drones will be used in the fight against climate change, to help save endangered species, to deliver emergency supplies and even bring the Internet to remote places in the world. The future of drones is as vast as the open sky. Its only limit? Our imagination.
Want to explore more BBC reports and commentary? Click here for archives on everything from sexism in Silicon Valley to tech solutions to the California drought.
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
As news broke about Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandatory water restrictions in California, I joined Roger Hearing on the BBC’s Business Matters program to discuss the state’s historic drought and the governor’s slow response.
“We are standing on dry grass, and we should be standing on five feet of snow,” Mr. Brown said. “We are in an historic drought… a new era…The idea of your nice little green lawn getting watered every day, those days are past.”
Although the governor’s mandate calls for a 25% water use reduction, it probably won’t go into effect until June and will barely impact the farming community, which accounts for 80% of the state’s water use (almond farmers alone use 10%). According to a report by Lisa Krieger, the CA Department of Water Resources confirms that agriculture water use has already been heavily restricted, however the new rules will not restrict groundwater pumping.
Experts at NPR’s KQED say the most worrying part is that this crisis is a glimpse of the future: the low rainfall and high temperatures we’ve experienced in the last four years are now the “new normal,” thanks to climate change.
Here’s an extract of our discussion that starts at 29:00 in the BBC podcast:
Hearing: We know California is sunny…but it’s rather too sunny and not quite rainy enough…and for the first time in the state’s history you have mandatory water restrictions. How does it affect your life and what’s going on there?
van Diggelen: Yes, this is big news here. Governor Brown went up into the Sierra this morning and he stood where normally there would be about five foot of snow and he was on grass. It was such a powerful image to relay to people the extent of the problem: 2013 was the driest on record in the state, 2014 was the warmest. It was like a one-two punch for the environment and finally he’s getting round to doing something. A lot of people, myself included, are asking: Why didn’t you start something a year ago? We saw this coming…(A recent San Jose Mercury News editorial describes Brown’s action to date as “lame.”)
Hearing: What’s it actually look like? Do you notice the lakes ebbing away, the rivers drying up?
van Diggelen: There are a lot of reservoirs in the south San Francisco Bay area that are completely dry or close to being dry. A lot of locals are letting their grass go brown. There are a lot of visible ways of seeing this, however you’re also seeing beautiful verdant grass on golf courses, so you could say there is a cover up going on. This is long overdue, there really needed to have been mandates before this, but at least there is something happening now. Gov. Brown is calling for reduction in water use of 25% for the next year.
Hearing: But he can’t make rain. Is there any sign of it coming?
van Diggelen: Our rainy season is almost over. We’re now in April and the majority of our rain falls between September and March, so it’s not looking likely. We may get one or two light showers, but the experts are saying the window of opportunity for a big storm has passed.
Hearing: It’s going to be a long hot summer.
Toward the end of the program (at 48:45 in the podcast), Don McLean fans will be interested to learn that we discussed the “American Pie” manuscript, which goes to auction on April 7th. I couldn’t help remarking how relevant the classic contemporary song is to California today:
“I drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry.”
Sadly, as climate change progresses, dry levees, lakes and rivers are going to be a widespread sight in California. Indeed, that and brown lawns are going to become “the new normal.”
So bye-bye verdant green lawns…
It’s been nice knowing you.
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
News that the Koch Brothers are planning to raise almost a billion dollars in the run up to the 2016 Presidential election is sending shock waves through U.S. politics. The Kochs are closely linked to the Heartland Institute, an organization described by the BBC’s former environment correspondent, Richard Black as follows:
To itself, it’s a think-tank; to critics, it’s a lobby group, paid to oppose regulation on a number of fronts – including climate change. It’s probably most notable (or notorious) for holding an annual “climate-sceptic” conference in Washington DC.
On the other side of the climate arena is Tom Steyer, a self-made billionaire who launched Next Gen Climate, a Super PAC with the following mission:
“Working at every level, we are committed to supporting candidates, elected officials and policymakers across the country that will take bold action on climate change—and to exposing those who deny reality and cater to special interests.”
Steyer put $74 Million into the 2014 elections, targeting Republican candidates who reject climate science.
Last week, I joined Roger Hearing, host of BBC’s Business Matters to discuss the influence of big money in US politics and the Koch brothers in particular. Hearing talked to Andy Kroll a senior writer at Mother Jones about his insightful article, “The Koch Brothers Raised $249 Million at Their Latest Donor Summit” (@26:30 on the BBC podcast).
Here is a transcript of our conversation. It has been edited for clarity (starts @35:00 above, 32:00 on the BBC podcast)
Roger Hearing: What do you think is the effect of money in this scale – we’re talking a pretty massive scale – on US politics?
Alison van Diggelen: It is massive and it seems to be growing. It’s a little bit scary. I can assure you, because I cover climate change, I’m very aware of the Koch brothers. They’re secretly funding climate denial, basically a climate denial machine…
Hearing: Can you explain that?
van Diggelen: They have been funding various foundations with wonderful names that you’d think you would get behind, like the Heartland Institute. But what the Heartland Institute spends most of its time doing is pulling apart real scientists’ studies and reports; and trying to undermine them….scientist by scientist, report by report, trying to undermine the credibility of the scientist or the report.
Hearing: I guess they say they’re putting their money behind different views, airing views that are perhaps not mainstream?
van Diggelen: That’s the interesting thing. There’s a huge difference between what people think about climate change in America versus in Europe and the rest of the world. I think, for the rest of the world, it’s a done deal, it’s an accepted truth. But here an America, and I think a lot of people would agree with me on this, the Koch brothers’ machine of climate denial has helped muddy the waters so a lot of people aren’t quite sure, especially if you look at Republican candidates, a lot of them talk about “the science isn’t a hard fact.” They’re wary of actually admitting that there is such a thing as global warming going on.
Hearing: Alison, are there any moves to…we heard that there was a case some time back going to the Supreme Court…where there was an attempt to try to clear the position as far as money and politics were concerned. Is there any renewed attempt, ahead of the 2016 election to try to restrict in any way how much money can be put into the campaign?
van Diggelen: Not that I’m aware of. There seems to be the dominance of the 1% here in the US. They’re influencing what is happening in the US in four ways: through policy, courtroom decisions, TV ads, and the education system. They seem to be unfettered in their ability. Perhaps the court case you were referring to is Citizens United? But that effectively gave more power to these political action committees and allowed them to create dark money groups where they’re not actually declaring where the money is coming from. It’s all rather doom and gloom.
Hearing: We talked there about the Koch brothers, and they tend to be backing Republican candidates…but where you are, around Silicon Valley there are a large number of very wealthy individuals who have quite a liberal outlook and could deploy their money there. Similarly people in Hollywood. Does that happen too?
van Diggelen: It is happening. The person of note is Tom Steyer. He’s a San Francisco, former money man, who’s now putting a lot of his millions into an organization called NextGen Climate. They are getting involved in politics and they are targeting mostly Republican candidates, those that are rejecting climate science. I’m all in favor of that: exposing these people with their crazy science ideas…
Hearing: But that’s big money too…
van Diggelen: I agree. That is big money but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what the Koch brothers are able to leverage from the other side. Tom Steyer has the science behind him and to be honest, it’s shameful that big money from the Koch brothers is being used to fund this anti-science and impact not just America, but the rest of the planet
Hearing: Although the people you’re talking about are trying to put big money in the other side.
van Diggelen: Yes, but I think they’re just trying to make things clear. Science is science. They’re trying to expose the truth of the science and the lies of the anti-science.
Hearing: We’ll leave the argument there. It’s an interesting one…
More from the BBC’s Richard Black story:
“The Heartland Institute is largely behind the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), a project that purports to mirror the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by producing reports downplaying the extent of global warming as well as the involvement of greenhouse gas emissions in producing it.”
Read more from Coral Davenport in the New York Times re a January 2015 US Poll on Climate Change
“Although the poll found that climate change was not a top issue in determining a person’s vote, a candidate’s position on climate change influences how a person will vote. For example, 67 percent of respondents, including 48 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of independents, said they were less likely to vote for a candidate who said that human-caused climate change is a hoax.”
Correction: I mistakenly called the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation during the interview. The transcript has been adjusted to correct this error. The Koch brothers are known to be contributors to the Heartland Institute, via their family foundations, as verified by the Center for Media and Democracy.