Natural progression

Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey to check out as CEO in 2022

Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey to check out as CEO in 2022

John Mackey
After more than 40 years, what makes him whole is retirement. Courtesy of Whole Foods Market

John Mackey, the trailblazing, high-profile, highly opinionated co-founder and CEO of Austin-based Whole Foods Market, is stepping down as the top executive at the natural and organic grocery chain.

In a letter posted September 30 on the company’s website, Mackey said he’s retiring in September 2022. Jason Buechel, currently the chief operating officer, will succeed Mackey as CEO. Upon retirement, Mackey will pursue some of his other “life passions” (including yoga), he wrote.

Mackey co-founded Whole Foods in 1980. In 2017, he shepherded Whole Foods through its $13.7 billion acquisition by e-commerce giant Amazon. At the time of the Amazon deal, Whole Foods was a publicly traded company with annual revenue approaching $15 billion. Today, Whole Foods operates more than 500 stores in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom, and employs roughly 87,000 people.

“As a co-founder of Whole Foods, I’ve often explained my relationship to the company with a parent-child metaphor. As a parent, I have always loved Whole Foods with all my heart,” Mackey wrote. “I have done my best to instill strong values, a clear sense of higher purpose beyond profits, and a loving culture that allows the company and all our interdependent stakeholders to flourish.”

“All parents reach a time when they must let go and trust that the values imparted will live on within their children. That time has nearly come for me and for Whole Foods,” he added.

Mackey, a former vegetarian who now identifies as vegan, entered the grocery business in 1978 with the opening of a health food store called SaferWay near downtown Austin. Two years later, he co-founded Whole Foods, an Austin-based business that would go on to revolutionize the natural and organic foods industry.

Throughout his career, Mackey — a free-market libertarian — has never shied away from bold moves and comments.

In 2006, for instance, Mackey capped his own pay at $1 a year (while still owning a multimillion-dollar stake in Whole Foods). And for years, he anonymously published blog posts that got him into hot water over their criticism of Wild Oats Market, which Whole Foods bought in 2007 for $565 million. Also, he has been denounced for slamming the notion of public health insurance and equating Obamacare with fascism. Furthermore, Mackey routinely bashes labor unions.

Mackey, who celebrated his 68th birthday in August, grew up in Houston. He’s an alumnus of the University of Texas and San Antonio’s Trinity University.