Whole Foods co-founder and CEO John Mackey at a New York store in 2009. Photo: Richard Drew/AP Photo/CP Whole Foods co-founder and CEO John Mackey at a New York store in 2009. Photo: Richard Drew/AP Photo/CP

What’s the purpose of business?” asked John Mackey, the 62 year-old co-founder of $10.12 billion company Whole Foods Market, and the last speaker at The Art of Leadership conference held in Toronto in November.

Mackey paused for a few seconds—the auditorium was quiet, none of the 1,000 attendees spoke—and then proceeded to answer his own question: “Business is the greatest value creator in the world. It provides money to fund governments and nonprofits, but it’s often put in a narrative that it’s all about money.”

Mackey is a man with many philosophies about business. For example, he supports free market economics and is strongly against unions. Nine years ago, he wrote a letter to his employees announcing he was reducing his salary to $1 a year, and would donate his entire stock portfolio to charity. He said he has reached a point in life where he didn’t want to work for money anymore, but “simply for the joy of the work itself and to better answer the call to service that I feel so clearly in my own heart.”

At the event, Mackey was delivering a presentation based on his book Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business. The book explores the higher purpose of corporations and lays out how to develop conscious leaders in an organization and to create a healthy culture and environment for stakeholders.

Conscious Capitalism grew out of an organization Mackey co-founded called Freedom Lights Our World in the late 2000’s to combine his commitments to economic and political freedom, and personal growth and social responsibility.

Here are four takeaways from Mackey’s talk for entrepreneurs striving to practice conscious capitalism.

“Good leaders must first become good servants”

Conscious leaders are virtuous, service-oriented, and authentic, says Mackey. They embody high integrity and emotional intelligence, and are responsible for creating a shared purpose in the organization by inspiring people, helping them to grow and evolve.

To become a conscious leader, individuals must work on themselves. “Our greatest challenge as leaders is to manage and lead ourselves first, then share our wisdom with our organization,” Mackey says.

“Great enterprises have great purposes—it’s not just about making money”

Mackey says the purpose of business is often misunderstood. People tend to think that businesses are used to generate money, but Mackey argues that the companies that people most admire all have a higher purpose to serve society, instead of a single-minded focus on profits.

Create win-win strategies

If a stakeholder (customer, investor, employee, supplier) will  become worse off through a decision, MacKey tries not to make that decision. He believes in creating win-win solutions in business, and says making the right decision requires integrity, knowing yourself and following your heart.

“Culture is the most valuable assets of any company”

Mackey believes culture is the most important part of a company, and challenges corporations to build a business on love. “People see love as weak, and we’ve got the macho philosophy of business,” he says. But innovation happens when employees feel safe to explore and share their ideas. Mackey asks managers to use appreciation to create a work place of love.

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Do you agree with Mackey’s formula for Conscious Capitalism? Share your thoughts on building a purposeful business by commenting below.

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