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2010 Power 50: No. 19 John Mackey

John Mackey - Power 50 Profile

This is the year that the shopping public learned a lot more about John Mackey, the person — from Mackey himself.

“I have my own views and they’re not necessarily the same as Whole Foods’,” the 56-year-old founder of Whole Foods Market told an interviewer in a January profile in The New Yorker. “People want me to suppress who I am.”

Over the past year, Mackey has become more vocal, expressing opinions and commenting on current events that have taken him outside of his role as Whole Foods’ co-founder and chief executive officer.

Last August, he wrote a controversial editorial in the Wall Street Journal opposing President Obama’s health care reforms, prompting calls for a Whole Foods boycott. Many were surprised by his “crunchy conservative” nature that directly contradicted what they thought Whole Foods was all about.

The chain itself, however, has undergone a resurgence. After a period of sluggish sales, Mackey and company were able to recast the business around a value-driven strategy. For the most recent quarter, sales increased 13% to $2.1 billion, and comparable-store sales were up 8.7%.

“We have successfully emerged from this recession with a healthier balance sheet and better capital disciplines,” said Mackey.

Still, changes are afoot. In December, Mackey raised eyebrows when he announced he was resigning as chairman of the board. The industry was abuzz that outside investors — who now collectively own nearly a quarter of the Austin, Texas-headquartered company — were exerting more control.

Not so, according to Mackey. In his CEO blog on Whole Foods’ website, Mackey wrote that ceding the chairman’s title was merely a formality, reflecting good corporate governance.

Then in May, rumors again swirled as Co-Presidents and Chief Operating Officers Walter Robb and A.C. Gallo were granted their own titles. Robb joined Mackey as co-CEO and was given a seat on the board, while Gallo was named the sole president and COO.

In his blog, Mackey stated that there is no connection between the Journal editorial, giving up the chairman’s title and appointing Robb and Gallo to new posts. Yet he felt compelled to reassure customers and investors that the future of Whole Foods includes John Mackey.

“I am most definitely not interested in leaving the company or retiring!” he wrote. “I am healthier, with more vitality right now than I had 20 years ago.”

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