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After much thought and consideration, I have decided to voluntarily give up my title as Chairman of the Board.  While I don’t expect this to impact the day to day operations of the company in any way, I wanted to share the reasons for my decision with you.

 

I have held the Chairman title since Whole Foods Market’s beginning in 1978, but the reality is that today it is merely a title with no authority or responsibilities.  The authority and responsibilities normally associated with the Chairman position were all shifted over time to John Elstrott, after he became our Lead Director back in January 2001.  Despite this shift in responsibilities, Whole Foods, along with many other companies with combined CEO/Chairman roles, has been targeted by corporate governance activists for several years now seeking a separation of these roles.

 

The members of the Board and E-Team tried to talk me out of giving up the title; however, I don’t believe it is in the best interest of our company or our stakeholders to devote any more time or resources to fight this misperception over a title any longer.  John Elstrott will now take the title of Chairman of the Board, which will accurately reflect the authority and the responsibilities that he has had for many years.  I will remain a member of the Whole Foods Market Board and will continue to passionately serve as CEO, hopefully for many more years to come.

 

I remain incredibly excited about the future for Whole Foods Market!  As the world slowly moves out of the deep recession we’ve been in for most of the past two years, our company is well positioned to resume our growth and to continue to fulfill our company’s mission and core values.  Happy holidays to everyone.

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65 comments

Comments

Allan says …

Like Steve Jobs Leaving Apple, When the Vision that founded, built and ran a good company leaves, the company is never the same. We can only hope that in a short time the Board will come crawling back, begging for your return to the helm. The question is will be will you return or leave them to compost in their decisions?

Janice McPhee says …

Dear Mr. Mackey, I am very sorry to hear you are stepping down from your position at Whole Foods. I really hope you have not been forced out because of your op-ed ad and your right to free speech. Furter, I would hate to think your were forced to say this because so many people have written that they will no longer shop there anymore. If I find out differently I will no longer shop there. I believe in the right of free speech. I would just like to say that you are very respected by the employees of Whole Foods where I shop in Greenville, SC. You have created a wonderful store atmosphere in the Whole Foods stores and for that you can be proud. I wish you all the best. Janice McPhee

John Kurtz says …

Splitting the chair and CEO roles in today's politically charged environment is a prudent move and I sincerely hope it was not "forced" upon you by those of the left who are blind to any opinion but theirs. I consider you a patriot for expressing your views in the WSJ and John Stossel TV venues. It's refreshing to hear those that have first hand experience in running complex businesses propose meaningful change that make sense as opposed to the government telling us what's best for our behalf that only results in bigger intrusion in our lives. On a lighter note, we love your natural crunchy peanut butter. We have to buy it by the case as your closest location is Raleigh, NC, 2.5 hrs. from New Bern, our home. Please let us know your future plans if you have any for Eastern North Carolina. Keep up your good work. You have a fan for life.

L. Foerster says …

Mr. Mackey, Thanks for your voice and keep your head up high...what a sad situation in America we have. Why don't you just start another company? If you do, Oklahoma really needs one! I am removing Whole Foods from my "friends" list...and won't be shopping there again. Best of luck to you. Again, thanks for your efforts and courage...Edmond, Oklahoma

paig292 says …

Hi Everyone, Please re-read my posted blog above. Everything posted there is both accurate and true. Let me try to correct a few of the rumors and false statements being made here and in other places: 1. Was I forced to give up the Chairman's title? Absolutely not! Both the idea and the decision to give up the title were completely my own. As I mention above, both the Board and the Executive Team tried to talk me out of this decision. I was under zero pressure from anyone. I was not coerced. 2. Did the decision to give up the Chairman's title have anything to do with the op-ed article last summer in the Wall Street Journal? It isn't connected in the slightest way. Contrary to many people's beliefs I'm not being "punished" for writing the op-ed piece. 3. Why then did I give up the Chairman's title? For exactly the reasons I mention above. The Chairman of the Board position at Whole Foods Market has been without any real authority, power, or responsibility since January, 2001--almost 9 years ago. All the authority and responsibility usually vested in the Chairman of the Board position were transferred to the position of Lead Director many years ago. I kept the Chairman's title, primarily out of inertia, to avoid upsetting people, and probably a little bit of face saving on my part. At no time has anyone on the Board or in management ever asked me to give up the title. 4. Why give the title up now? That is simple: to avoid another proxy battle with shareholder activists over keeping a title without authority or responsibilities. Many people at Whole Foods believe we should just continue to fight the shareholder activists over this particular issue indefinitely, but it just doesn't make sense to me to continue to do so because of the wasted time and money this battle entails. The deadline for responding to the proxy was coming up and after talking the matter over with both the Board and my Executive Team I made the decision to give up the title. I had been thinking about giving up the title for the past few years so the decision was not a hasty one. 5. There is one other reason I decided to give up the Chairman's title that I didn't mention in the blog or in the 8-K: Dr. John Elstrott deserves to have the title. He has done a great job for Whole Foods as the Lead Director for the past 9 years and he hasn't received the public recognition that he has definitely earned. He has helped steer our Board through some rough waters over the past 9 years. Since he has the authority and responsibility of the traditional Chairman of the Board already, why shouldn't he also have the title? I think he should. My respect and trust in Dr. Elstrott's integrity and competence has grown with each passing year. Whole Foods is lucky to have him as our Chairman and I support him 100%.

Dianne says …

Interestint the shareholder activists forced this decision. What happened to freedom of speech in this country. Well my freedon is no more shopping at Whole Foods.

Patrick Frankfort says …

John, I don't see any reason to doubt that you're being honest about the way this decision was made, and it sounds like it was the wise thing to do. I just want to say thanks for speaking your mind and getting your views out there. You've caused a lot of people to rethink their opinions on health care as well as how a company can operate productively and ethically. That's definitely a good thing. As a grocer, its not your job to dictate to people exactly what they should eat, but your company excels at giving people healthy and ethical options, as well as a great deal of information on how to take care of themselves and each other. Thanks.

Nan says …

Too bad you *aren't* stepping down as CEO...then maybe your wacky, unfair employee "benefits" would go, too. I can't say it any better than this person did. http://manolobig.com/2010/01/31/whole-lotta-crazy-at-whole-foods/

Bruce & Judy Kellams says …

We are extremely disappointed with the decision to step down because of the pressure of a small focus group who allows no opinions or beliefs that they do not agree with. Whole foods has just lost our business and hopefully, all our friend's business.

Sheila Towers says …

John, I will no longer purchase any products from your stores, and I hope that each American that learns about this will do the same. It is a sad state of affairs when one's opinions endanger one's job, be it Chairman of the Board or any other job however menial, and totally anti-American! CtW and the likes are slowly turning this country from a republican democracy to a fascist state.

Marilyn Morris says …

I was proud and very pleased when John Mackey stood up to the single-minded inanities and idiocy of The Left in this Country. Now, I am only ashamed of Whole Foods and I will NO LONGER SHOP THERE, AND I WAS A GREAT CUSTOMER! Do you hear me--any of you on the Board reading this??? I, and many others I know, will no longer shop Whole Foods. You are just the usual bunch of lily-livered fools letting yourselves be pushed around and caving in to stupid political correctness and politics in general, shame on you. So long.

DP says …

I am disturbed by your decision to step down. I supported your righto to express your views. You may spin it anyway you want, but I see your resignation as succumbing to the pressure exerted by liberals - those that support the first amendment, only so lnog as the expressed views resonate with theirs. Apparently, such views now resonate with those of Whole Foods. Accordingly, we will no longer be shopping at Whole Foods. We do have a choice and we have made ours.

Victoria Bennett says …

John Mackey-I think he is WONDERFUL! How in the world would any company not be green with envy to have such a pioneer/leader at the helm. Shame on you Whole Foods for not supporting him. I am a huge contibutor to your stores-I shop every week at least 3 times a week at the Whole Foods at Park/Preston in Plano, TX. I have never seen such happy dedicated employees thanks to your CEO. They are well taken care of and it shows. It is a pleasant place to shop. I applaud Mr. Mackey's blog on Obamacare as Obamacare is going to destroy our country. Those in office right now are bent on destroying our free markets. Mr. Mackey had sound, logical ideas. You had better keep him or I will be big time mad. He is why your stores are so successful!!!!!! Get a clue!

Kathleen Lazare says …

Thank you for standing up for what is right. But you can't reason with closed minds. However rest assured that most of us feel the same way as you and we will be taking back our country. In the meantime I will no longer be shopping at Whole Foods. I may only be one person but it has to start somewhere. Thank you.

Grant says …

John, Saddened by your announcement. WH has flourished under your leadership. You are however conducting yourself like a gentleman, contrary to your critics who assert damage to the brand, your above post shows where your heart is. You're to be commended. I have to ask though why it is that it's only the radical left that demands tolerance to their views, while offering none to their detractors? Your crime was that you spoke your mind about a relevant corporate issue. It's become recently apparent that free speech is dead unless the Left likes it. To see that applied to an executive discoursing on a corporately relevant political issue is beyond disturbing. Time to stand up America for what we're founded on. God bless you John.

Josh G. says …

Mr. Mackey, have you every thought of running for president?

Anne Retzler says …

The John Mackey comments re the proposed health care bill were right on target. I respect John for making those comments. It appears that these comments gave the Board an excuse to remove him as Chairman of the Board. Shame on the Board and any major stockholders that influenced the removal of John as Chairman of the Board. AR 12/28/09

Susan Mehiel says …

I was sorry to hear that you are stepping down. I have been driving an hour to the WF store in Greenville, SC to shop since I read your WSJ articles. I'll save the gas from now on - Fresh Market is just around the corner. Keep up your great work and keep us posted!

Lois Klatt says …

I am sorry that the Board does not believe in free speech and as such stand up for anyone to have that right. That is real liberalism isn't it? I go out of my way to shop at wholefoods in the kansas city area but a narrow minded organization trying to squelch my rights or anyone else's does not deserve my business.

JA says …

I was inspired and motiviated to shop at Whole Foods more often after I saw you, John Mackey, have the courage speak out and attempt to create some logical, reasonable solutions to an extremely complex societal and political issue. You had to know this was a polital football, and you didn't have to take this on, for that I admire you. Now I'm afraid the only voice I have is to choose not to shop at Whole Foods in order to support the idea of your free and reasonable speech. I do not do this without the pain of knowing that this will hurt the many good employees still at Whole Foods and for that I am sorry. How irononic that we are going through this period of "McCarthyism" - except that today the big accusation is not that you might be a communist -- that seems to be quite acceptable - you'd just better not stand up for any ideas that don't parrot the PC liberal Democratic party-line (I say this as a registered Democrat). Also one had better beware of standing up for free speech, personal responsibility, capitalism, democracy or the free market. I'm of very modest income and unlikely to attain any sort of financial security in my lifetime - that said, I'd rather have a free market and free speech, than any government handout - which inevitably invites control, corruption and market interference (whether it be from a liberal or conservative govt.) I'll place my bet with a good business man/woman ANY day over any current day politician or bureaucrat. Thanks for trying John.

Hal W McCoy says …

I can't remember when I have been so upset. The idea that a great Chairman can be forced out of office because he published his opinion that free market solutions are better than government run solutions is just terrible. Every citizen who loves freedom should be mad as hell.

Jeanne Burke says …

Your WSJ article on health care reform was brilliant and insightful. After reading that article, I made a decision to support Whole Foods and shop there more often. Your resignation signifies to me that the left wing radicals have succeeded in silencing any free speech that they are not in agreement with. I will voice my own opinion to the resignation of John Mackey by no longer shopping in Whole Foods.

michael mitchell says …

<strong>Inflammatory </strong>I am so happy that John Mackey has stepped down as chairman.But i will not shop at Whole Foods until Mackey had left Whole Foods.And i have found heath food stores here where i live.This is the frist step next step is for Mackey to Leave Whols Foods.DONOT SHOP WHOLE FOODS.

vjklander says …

It doesn't sound like much will change, and I suspect JM will continue to speak his mind. There are some very valid reasons to have separate Chairman/CEO functions in general. Any time I ramble through Falls Church I will definitely stop in for shopping. In the similar vein, Hey John! Giant is buying most, but not all Ukrops stores in the Fredericksburg, VA area. The store at the intersection of Rte 3 and Salem Church Rd would make a great Whole Foods Store!!!!

Steven says …

Funny how most of you are going on about "liberal censorship" and the like. This is ironically, a quintessential example of the free market at work! Mr Mackey is free to speak his mind &amp; consequentially, consumers are free to speak theirs &amp; even boycott! He's clearly stepping down due to his increasing liability to Whole Foods stock value, again the free market at work. DUH!

John Gault says …

John, I am sorry to see it come to this point. Tragically, Allan Bloom wrote about the closing of the American mind 21 years ago, his thesis is still unfolding. I knew when the original op-ed was published, that you were shaking up the wasps nest that is probably 80% of the firm's clientele. The dogmatic outcry to someone with a different opinion is sad, is illiberal, and reflects what passes for liberal "thought" these days. In my book you were, and still are, a hero for taking a stand and asserting individual liberty, which used to be what liberalism was about. It's funny how people who call themselves "liberals" today look to big government for the answers to social ills. We will prevail, John, because we are right. Utopian fantasies always fail because they are unnatural man-made constructs. REALITY ALWAYS WINS.

John says …

Thank friggin god. It is about time. Merry Christmas to all shareholders! Your job was to run the company and all you have been doing for the past 4+ years is running it into the ground by running your mouth. I don't give a damn what your opinions are. The only thing I care about is making money on my Whole Foods Market shares, which hasn't happened since the split. Anytime you write an editorial, speaks to a group of libertarians about your "brilliance," trash competitors like Wild Oats (the company Whole Foods later purchased) on a yahoo stock discussion board disguised as "Rhadoba," a jumble of your wife's name or frankly, anytime that you open your mouth the stock prices tank. I would have sold my shares if the hit wouldn't have been so hard. Although a full departure would have been a true Christmas miracle, I'll take what I can get. This gives me some hope.

DF says …

I have been a customer of Whole Foods since it first opened in New Orleans and now in Baton Rouge, but since John Mackey has been forced out by activists, I will no longer be shopping there.

Tejas says …

John, I get the Dec 24 SEC filing. That's like the Friday afternoon "document dump" that Washington is famous for, designed to make the news have as little impact as possible. I even imagine that the filing was done at the last minute on Christmas Eve, at, like, 4:59 PM. And your Christmas Eve blog entry downplays the whole change as no big deal and long in the making. So the filing date is curious, as is the AP story being datelined Philadelphia. Whole Foods isn't based there, and the SEC isn't based there. I wonder why this story broke out of the AP's Philly bureau instead of as a formal press release issued by Whole Foods corporate HQ in Austin, Texas, especially since you swear this news is no biggie?

anonymous says …

I was sincerely disappointed to read about this in SF Gate today. I think you have built a very unique organization. Your desire to direct things with the very same vision that helped make Whole Foods great and operationally superior, is now being criticized by some as "political". What a shame and what a silly world we have to live in occasionally. Keep up the good fight.

Julia Morton says …

If John goes, and with him freedom of thought and the right to free speach, I quit too. I will not shop in Wholefood again. Free speach and free thought is more important than any particular government.

Michael McEvoy says …

John, thanks for standing up for open market systems. I am proud of you and your willingness to take a public position. I stopped by my semi-local Whole Foods (I go out of my way to shop at your company - please open one in the East San Francisco Bay!) I have the pleasure to know a number of your employees and I have NEVER heard a negative word from any about the company, working conditions, and benefits... Just love for the company. You are a model for CEO leadership.

Kevin H. Davis says …

Sorry to hear that you are stepping down. I respected your right to espouse your opinion. Sorry to see you cave in to what appears to be profit-line pressure.

Rob says …

Good lord, folks... Read what the man wrote -twice-. Elvis has not left the building and this is not a reason to boycott anything. If anything, please just put down the paint and picket signs and read shareholder proposals for the companies in which you own stock.

scott says …

John is still on the Board and CEO of the company why would you boycott/stop shopping at WFM. He is just not chairman of the board which is like he said nothing more than a title.

Jolinda Rockett says …

So you're not leaving! Excellent. I will watch for news of your welfare and courage. Whole Foods is fortunate to have your guidance. But more importantly, "we" are fortunate to have thinking and honorable people speak up and hold the course.

Jim says …

Amazing that even over JM's repeated affirmation to the contrary, commenters like Allan still seem convinced that this is a craven decision of the Board rather than a sensible course of action taken by Mackey himself. Glad he saw fit in his second post to give proper credit to the work of the his successor, new Chair John Elstrott. One aspect not acknowledged here is that there are many good reasons for separating the roles of Board Chair and CEO. Doesn't freedom of speech extend also to the 'shareholder activists' who have been pointing this out? In the free market model don't shareholders have a right to comment on the effectiveness of their company's governance structure?

Dave in Virginia says …

Mr. Mackey, I am sorry to see you move from your current position. I just learned of the controversy surrounding Whole Foods. This is ridiculous. I fully support you, your company and your view on health care. I will shop at Whole Foods more so than in the past to demonstrate my support. Respectfully, David

joan mcfadden says …

No more trips to whole foods for me. So glad that B.J.'s carries cheddar bunnies.

Tray Rorie says …

I am 100% in agreement with you on health care and I fully support your decision to give up your John Elstrott. Thank you for building such a fantastic organization. You and the Whole Foods story are very inspirational. I also have some serious thoughts about a potential venture that meshes very well with your experience and, indeed with Whole Foods. Please write me an e-mail so I can reply and share these thoughts with you.

Tray Rorie says …

Oops... I made a typo. I meant to say "I fully support your decision to give up your Chairman title to John Elstrott."

Eva says …

You will not see me at Whole Foods again. i agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Mackey's views about Obamacare but I guess Free Speech is no longer recognized in the USA.

Ellen says …

don't hit your head on the way out. there are many other places to obtain the products available via WF.

LMR says …

(clicked too soon; with corrections:) I fully support the First Amendment, and support the right of free speech and assembly even for groups whose missions I oppose (even Glenn Beck). However, I don’t intend to give such groups my money. With great power comes great responsibility; if John Mackey wants to use his powerful position as CEO to sway public policy against health care (and also to speak out against global warming), that is his right. However, we liberals also have the right to take our money to the numerous other organic food shops whose leadership uses their power to support causes in which we believe. Most of those commenting think free speech entails no economic consequences, and that is not historically accurate, nor are the “no consequences” guaranteed by the Constitution. I would fully support the free speech of an elementary school history teacher who wants to proclaim that the Bill of Rights is nonsense, but NOT in their position as teacher. As CEO of Whole Foods, Mackey is no longer just a private citizen; he has a role which wields great influence, and if he chooses to use that role to sway public opinion or public policy in a way that I deem socially irresponsible, then I choose not to help fund his salary through my purchases.

Becky Montgomery says …

Odd that all of the comments here are expressing the same views. Usually there is a mixture of ideas, even if one side predominates. Strange, and I also find it strange that the head of a company expresses views so contradictory of science. It makes me wonder if the food sold at the store is REALLY organic, etc.

Jen says …

Shareholder influence is EXACTLY what the free market is supposed to be about. No one's free speech has been infringed upon; the government did not intervene and try to penalize Mackey for his statements. Mackey's views on health care reform and climate change were in conflict with a majority of the Whole Foods consumer and were bad for business. This is why the shareholders cared what he said, and why they responded. His statements were bad for business, and their pressure was a business decision.

Sara says …

Hey John, As TMs, should we expect any changes? I am loathe to trust any corporation, but working at WFM has given me trust, at least, in your corporation. Will it still be YOUR corporation? Will the vision be the same?

Lisa says …

I think this is a good move. I have not shopped at Whole Foods since your Op-Ed and I am not alone. I absolutely support free speech for every individual, but I'm not going a hand you my money if I disagree with your views. When you choose to use your company's name to express your views in a public forum then I am not going to use my money in a way that supports your company. I really don't see what is "socialist" about that. I shop at my local co-op now. It's a little out of my way, but I feel that it supports my community and my local farmers. That's how I prefer to live and eat.

Stacey Turner says …

I am saddened but still going to shop at Whole Foods. Stop shopping there &amp; the terrorists win. The truth is that WF is a shining example of what good people can do &amp; will do when they are free to do so. Thank you Mr. Mackey. Sorry about the previous typo. I am a mediocre typist.

kassandra says …

Why are all these conservatives threatening not to shop there anymore? He is not going anywhere? Did they even read what he said? It would better if people did buy from their local fresh market and local growers (less gas used ) and you really know where your food is coming from and what is in it. OR GROW YOUR OWN SMALL GARDEN AND RAISE CHICKENS Why should we trust anyone who obviously knows nothing about scientific research? Why would I want to eat what he is making or selling? Did you know that we have just as many pigs raised in this country right now as they did in 1900?

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