John Mackey recently released his latest book The Whole Story: Adventures in Love, Life, and Capitalism. After writing thoughtful books about diverse topics like Conscious Capitalism and The Whole Foods Diet, Mackey’s latest book is an autobiography of his struggles to find his own path outside of the confining norms of his parents and society to build a multi-billion-dollar business serving millions of people. 

After reading the book, you will walk away feeling braver in facing life and business challenges and daring to be different. That is a huge accomplishment, unlike any other book about business.

Here are some reasons why you should read Mackey’s latest book.

Entrepreneurial Journey and Its Sacrifices 

Too many people eschew capitalism and its plethora of benefits. Opponents of a free-market system quickly argue that CEOs are greedy and exploit others. Mackey’s life is a powerful testimonial against this way of thinking. From the modest, hippy roots of the business to the acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon, Mackey describes all the ups and downs of the business. 

Does the teaming up of Amazon and Whole Foods represent a “monopoly?” See why it doesn’t … and why monopolies are unstable, anyway: 

The book reads more like a thriller, with complicated villains such as misguided government officials trying to torpedo the business and its growth. Mackey had to invest tens of millions of dollars to fight lawsuits, realizing that Washington, D.C. plays by different rules, forcing him to adjust his strategy. It’s filled with intimate and personal stories like these, making it an engaging read.

John Mackey dedicates the book to the team members at Whole Foods, acknowledging that it took tens of thousands of people to make the business work. While that is, of course, true, the fact remains that he was its founder and has fought for Whole Foods every step of the way, from saving their first larger store from a 100-year flood to fighting off activist investors trying to destroy his legacy and the essence of the company. 

Just a few months, after opening their first larger store in downtown Austin, Texas, a massive flood occurred that took out hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. Mackey had to wade through the stinking water, get tetanus shots, and nearly saw all of the operating cash stolen by looters. What saved the store was the community they had built. 

Neighbors and customers came to the rescue and cleaned up the store. This incident taught Mackey about the importance of stakeholder management and to focus on win-win-win situations. It is possible, albeit difficult, to produce scenarios in which customers, the business, and its stakeholders, like suppliers and employees, can all win. 

Mackey had to make many sacrifices, including taking a salary of $1 for many decades and had to make nearly impossible decisions, like firing his father from the board of directors. If you want to know what it looks like to build an ethical, conscious, and impactful business, read the book. You will gain an appreciation for the businesses around you — and John Mackey’s in particular. 

Spiritual and Professional Growth Go Hand in Hand

What’s unique about Mackey’s book is its honesty, authenticity, and transparency. The reader will get to know the author well and understand his world, even if it is full of seeming contradictions like being a vegan, a capitalist, a CEO, and an eclectic, spiritual seeker. Most Whole Foods customers would be, and actually were at times, appalled to learn that he is a capitalist; he enjoys thinkers and Nobel Prize winners like Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek. 

For more on Hayek, see: Did Hayek Predict Bitcoin?

His classical liberal peers raise their eyebrows when he talks about the need for more conscious businesses and spirituality. Mackey’s story and character do not fit into the normal archetypes one would think of as CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation. This makes the evolution of both Whole Foods and Mackey the protagonist intriguing.  

All too often, it is easy to espouse the gift of individualism but become complacent about becoming what the world, our family, and our socio-economic environment want us to be. Mackey always sought truth and carved out his own path. 

One of the powerful lessons in the book is that his own spiritual growth and seeking of knowledge, as well as gnostic experiences helped him to make hard-nosed business decisions. The book actually starts out with an LSD trip that set the young Mackey up for a trajectory in his life that neither his parents nor he himself could have foreseen. 

Psychedelics, breathwork, meditation, and a plethora of other modalities helped Mackey become who he is: an incredible business leader who has changed how tens of millions of people eat and live. This is not your typical corporate suit-and-tie success story, and if such a different approach to living life and doing business is not intriguing, then I don’t know what is. 

What’s in the Way is the Way

Life is tough. It has many ups and downs, and it often can feel crushing when we don’t know why we are suffering, why we are being attacked or otherwise disappointed at the hands of others. Mackey’s leadership was questioned and undermined by some of his closest friends. 

It happened several times throughout his long career but one incident stood out to me. He had built up one of his colleagues to be co-CEO and trusted the person with extensive responsibility while Mackey was spearheading a different business opportunity that took him physically and mentally away from the core business. That later translated into an outright fight on the board in which his co-CEO asked the board to replace Mackey … with him. 

This was a person with whom the author hiked, did sports and played games. A close relationship that ended with a lot of pain. The author shares all of this humbly, while taking responsibility and lamenting the relationship that ended. Often triumphantly, Mackey persisted, but those fights took their toll. The struggles taught important lessons and made Mackey and the business better. 

This is such a hard lesson to learn and to trust when life is at one of those points when it seems dark. Not every one of us will face hundreds of letters and phone calls asking to be fired because we wrote an Op-Ed against Obamacare in the Wall Street Journal or experience plots by friends to take us out. Nevertheless, the reader learns from Mackey’s experiences and applies those to one’s own circumstances. 

Mackey functions as an example to continuously strive toward love and understanding instead of anger, resentment, and fear. One of the mottos of his life is to not contract into fear but give into love. This might sound too trite for some, but I encourage you to read the book and see the wisdom in it. And it’s also a motto because neither Mackey nor the reader will always be able to choose love in all instances. The struggle is part of the path and a necessary product of life. 

In Summary

Mackey’s book is much more than one might think an autobiography should be: a mere celebration of one’s life and accomplishments. Mackey does not do this. He is a down-to-earth, nature- and competition-loving individual who seeks to share his passion and ideas. He acknowledges others and shares credit with dozens of people who have been pivotal to his success. 

The book is humble, full of wisdom, and genuine. It’s a beautiful book about the power of love, markets, and entrepreneurship that encourages the reader to see what is possible in life. An inspiring read I recommend everyone to pick up! 

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