John Mackey, CEO and co-founder of Austin-based Whole Foods Market, is something of an enigma. Mackey runs a “hippie” grocery store and is a strong believer in something called conscious capitalism, arguing that companies need servant leaders, empowered employees and a higher purpose than just making money. At the same time he’s a fierce proponent of unfettered free enterprise and a staunch critic of crony capitalism (see: the bank bailouts) and Obamacare. In fact he found himself in hot water last month for referring to the president’s health-care reform as “fascism,” a word he later apologized for.
It’s “one of those ‘F’ words you’re not allowed to utter in our society,” Mackey told a luncheon meeting of the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth today, without addressing the flap further. Earlier, he was asked whether equating Obamacare with fascism was causing any fallout for Whole Foods. “Yeah, journalists keep asking me about it,” he replied. “I wasn’t trying to start a controversy. I was just answering a question and tried to be accurate. I was thinking philosophically, but that term has a lot of baggage. So now I just call it government-controlled health care. I’m a capitalist, but we do not have capitalism in health care—and haven’t for 50 years. And now we have a lot less.”
Mackey will make another local appearance at the Preston/Forest Whole Foods tonight around 6, when he’ll be interviewed by Container Store CEO Kip Tindell, a pal since their days together at UT-Austin.