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John Mackey is a radical. But Mackey’s radicalism—what he calls “conscious capitalism”— lies far from what one might assume given that his day job is co-CEO of Whole Foods Market Inc., the upscale purveyor of organics that lures sandal-wearing Subaru drivers. Mackey’s journey has taken him from the 1978 opening of a tiny natural foods store in Austin, Texas, with Renee Lawson Hardy to 264th on the 2012 Fortune 500 list.
Along the way, Mackey developed a roughly libertarian philosophy—more than that, really, an ethos—with room for espousing ideas such as capitalism, natural foods and animal rights. And, yes, in case you are wondering, Mackey did donate to the Libertarian Party presidential campaign of former Gov. Gary Johnson. According to washingtonexaminer.com, Mackey gave $5,000.
Mackey’s conscious capitalism has turned into an organization, Conscious Capitalism Inc. (consciouscapitalism.org) and a new book, “Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business,” written with a professor, Raj Sisodia. I will leave you to learn more at the website.
However, beware of the vocabulary. Some of the language goes places sounding so silly that the reflex reaction is to run and hide. Key phrases for the conscious capitalism approach include “support the elevation of humanity” and “whole business ecosystem” and “fosters love and care and builds trust.”
Something about Mackey’s ideas opens the mind. Perhaps Whole Foods’ different initial framework makes it easier. The 14-year president of Trader Joe’s Company, another different sort of grocer, Doug Rauch, is now CEO of Conscious Capitalism Inc.
A conventional, worthy and limited approach comes from the California Water Service Group (calwatergroup.com), which operates in New Mexico through the New Mexico Water Service Company (newmexicowater.com) of Belen. Calwater’s website says, “We must do what’s right for our environment, customers, stockholders, communities, and employees.”
I should hope so. Even more, Calwater wants to be known as a “company with a heart,” Martin A. Kropelnicki, president and chief operating officer, recently told an Albuquerque audience. This thinking presents the company and its heart as something separate from the employees.
Separateness is the usual approach from businesses around here. The talk from organizations such as chambers of commerce is about business or “the business community” as something distinct from the rest of the world.
My hunch is that the separateness has something to do with the accounting system, which measures us all. The measures come in the shape of numbers. In fact, though, the accounting system measures little.
A colleague once argued that the way to success was to become involved in the customers’ lives. The business was two radio stations. For my friend’s station, a kite contest was one approach to involvement. For the other station, the boss’s approach was precipitously firing people. Neither the fun of the kites nor disruption of the dismissals appears directly in the accounting reports.
Business is about everything. To start, business in New Mexico is about the more than 600,000 people working for private sector organizations. Business is also about the 200,000 or so people employed by the government in the state. These folks are customers, after all, as are the people unemployed.
Businesses that get unionized deserve it. If the employees are so threatened as to need to appeal to an outside organization, then so be it. But how much better it would be if the employees were treated as partners in business with responsibility for success, elevating humanity, as it were.
Businesses are about ideas, creating value, solving problems, meeting customer’s needs. While the accounting system measures how well the work is executed, dropping the accounting blinders is necessary for the business and the whole society. We need conscious capitalists.