The New Yorker profiles Whole Foods CEO John Mackey this week, and writer Nick Paumgarten tries to convey the complexities and paradoxes of the grocery chain, as well as its leader. “It has less than a one-per-cent share of the American grocery market, yet it has unquestionably transformed the way Americans produce, buy, and eat food. Its name, justifiably or not, is shorthand for a food revolution.” Whet your appetite with our favorite parts, below.
• “[Mackey] is not a guy who cares a lot about how he looks, unless he cares a lot about appearing not to care.”
• “The last thing she asked me, she said, ‘John, promise me you’ll go back to school and get a college degree.’ I said, ‘Mom, I’m not going back to school. I’m doing Whole Foods.’ She said, ‘I wish you’d just give up that stupid health-food store. Your father and I gave you a fine mind, and you’re wasting it being a grocer.’ ”
• “I did all the hiring the first five years,” [Mark] Skiles said. “I had a field day, man. Everyone wanted to work there. It was like hiring bartenders at Studio 54. I became famous for hiring gorgeous women as cashiers. Hey, that’s what we were selling: vitality and sensuality.”
• “Mackey recently told the magazine Reason that the key variable in deciding where to put the new stores is the number of college graduates within a sixteen-minute drive.”
• “In 2001, he came across a book called ‘Beyond Backpacking,’ by Ray Jardine, the father of what’s called “ultralight” hiking—the discipline of selecting gear and material of nearly unimaginable low weight. He got his pack down to around twelve pounds, excluding food and water. … Ultralight hiking is, in some respects, like the grocery business: each requires strict attention to inventory and a fondness for a slog. The problem is that the grocery business involves other people.”
• “Mackey is, by all accounts, fiercely competitive. Years ago, the traditional executive-retreat volleyball games had to be scrapped, owing to Mackey’s intensity and his ill-disguised scorn for less capable teammates.”
Food Fighter [NYer]