John Mackey, the man who co-founded Whole Foods Market in 1980 and now is the CEO, has never been shy about sharing his less-than-conventional views. The animal rights activist and vegan announced in 2006 that he would reduce his salary to $1 a year and would donate his stock portfolio to charity; he is also a vocal libertarian, believes strongly in the free market, and is a fan of Milton Friedman, Ronald Reagan and Ayn Rand. The man is a walking paradox, and many of the Prius-driving customers who rely on Whole Foods for their locally-raised organic heirloom tomatoes have a hard time understanding him.
Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to Mackey’s opinions on Obamacare. In 2009, Mackey published an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, maintaining that the government should not be in the business of providing health care. The liberalistas revolted, calling for a massive boycott of Whole Foods stores. Meanwhile, those of the Tea Party persuasion called for "buycott" to counter the boycott. Such is the life of a quirky entrepreneur.
With his new book, "Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business," Mackey has been making the rounds on the interview circuit. He recently found himself in hot water after comparing Obamacare to fascism while chatting with Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep on liberal radio mecca, NPR. Oops.
On Thursday, Mackey backpedaled on his use of the F-word, telling "CBS This Morning," "Well, I think that was a bad choice of words on my part ... that word has an association with of course dictatorships in the 20th century like Germany and Spain, and Italy. What I know is that we no longer have free enterprise capitalism in health care; it's not a system any longer where people are able to innovate; it's not based on voluntary exchange. The government is directing it. So we need a new word for it. I don't know what the right word is.”
Regardless of his choice of words, Mackey remains critical of the president's health care reform law — all of which plays into the themes put forward in the new book.
As Mackey sees it, over the past few years corporate America has gotten a bad rap. He writes on his blog, “while free enterprise capitalism has been the most powerful creative system of social cooperation and human progress ever conceived, its perception and role in society have been distorted. Operating under the conscious capitalism model will show that businesses are the true value creators that can push all of humanity upward for continuous improvement.”
He asserts that capitalism’s redemption can come about by following the four key pillars of conscious capitalism: higher purpose, stakeholder integration, conscious leadership, and conscious culture and management.
As that applies to Obamacare? "We no longer have free-enterprise capitalism in health care," he said. "The government is directing it. So we need a new word for it." (Note to Mackey: Just make sure that new word doesn’t start with an "F.")
See his mea culpa, of sorts, in this "CBS This Morning" video: