Whole Foods—A New Approach
Freedom and democracy are powerful forces that can inspire even the most productive
workforces to surpass themselves. Whole Foods, the nation-wide chain of gourmet
organic and natural-food stores, operating in an industry notorious for its workers'
indifference, is just one of many remarkable enterprises that is unparalleled regarding its
empowered, motivated, and entrepreneurial employees. As you read its story, imagine the
possibilities if everyone in your company had the same spirit.
The concepts of teamwork, autonomy, and empowerment have become shopworn clichés
in much of the business world—overused and under-practiced to the point that they have
lost all meaning. At Whole Foods, these ideas are the foundation of a business model that
is blowing the competition out of the aisles.
Whole Foods Market began life in 1980 in Austin, Texas, and it hasn't stopped growing
since. In 2005, the company had 181 stores in North America and the United Kingdom.
Its $3.8 billion in revenues in 2005 made it the world's largest retailer of organic and
natural products, and its net profits of $84 million were double the industry average.
Meanwhile, with new stores and acquisitions, its employee count rose to 32,000.
So while the supermarket industry has been growing by at most 3 percent a year, Whole
Foods sales and revenues have been rising by double digits for years, all through the
recession. Over the last five years for example, its revenues have jumped by an average
of 16.4 percent. Oh, yes, don't forget the company's stock price ending 2004 at $84.73 per
share for a market capitalization of $32 billion.
Power To The People
Whole Foods is successful because its gutsy founder and chief executive, John Mackey
has largely given over the operation to his employees. And they have rewarded him with
a level of dedication and loyalty virtually unique in the industry. Whole Foods stores has
something which you don't find in abundance in most supermarkets—a pleasant, helpful
workforce committed to a healthy environment, healthy foods, and serving the customer.
That commitment grows out of a covenant between the organization and its employees:
We will make you a fully informed partner in the business and, in return, you will take
full responsibility for delivering stellar performance.
Walk into any Whole Foods store, and you will be greeted by people of every race,