By Lydia Wheeler
John Mackey disclosed his bias at the beginning - "I'm an enthusiastic capitalist," he said.
And through capitalism, the CEO and co-founder of Whole Foods believes private corporations have the power to reinstate America as the world's most economically free nation. According to The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation's 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, the United States is ranked at No. 10 behind Hong Kong, Australia and Canada.
"As economic freedom declines in our nation so does our prosperity because they are completely intertwined," Mackey said last Tuesday while speaking to a crowd of 560 people at The Founders Inn and Spa for Regent University's Executive Leadership Series monthly luncheon.
The gourmet grocer recently published "Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business," which he co-authored with Rajendra Sisodia, a professor of marketing at Bentley University and co-founder of the Conscious Capitalism Institute.
"We wrote the book to start waking up businesspeople," he said. "Businesspeople are the value creators."
Businesses create employment, wages and prosperity, but critics have long classified corporate enterprise as selfish, greedy and exploitative, he said.
To defend business and capitalism, Mackey said business leaders need to create a foundation that is viewed by society as good, ethical, true and beautiful.
And it starts with having a higher purpose.
"If you ask people what the purpose of business is, the general answer you'll get is 'What do you mean what's the purpose of business? The purpose of business it to make money,'" he said.
"It's such an odd answer because if you ask what the purpose of a doctor is, they make a lot of money, but I've never heard a doctor say, 'My purpose is to make a lot of money.' Doctors heal people."
Teachers educate, architects design buildings, engineers construct things. Every profession reverts back to some type of higher purpose.
"Each business has to make money or it can't respond to competitiveness, it can't innovate, it can't grow, it can't change, it can't even repair equipment when it wears out, so businesses have to make money," Mackey said, "but that doesn't mean that's its purpose."
Higher purpose is his first secret to success. His second: Create value for all your stakeholders.
Conscious leadership is also key to conscious capitalism.
Power and money have long drawn people to leadership positions, but businesses, Mackey said, need servants who will work toward bettering the institution over themselves.
The biggest piece missing from corporations today - love.
"If we're going to create cultures, which is the fourth tenet of conscious business and conscious capitalism, we have to create new kinds of organizations that allow human beings to fully flourish and the most important element of that is to create a culture of care, a culture of love, a culture of compassion," he said, a culture that is humanistic and empowering.
The question is, can American do it?
Having given up on his own generation, Mackey said he wrote the book for Generation Y - those born between 1980 and 2000.
"This is the heroic generation that can create conscious businesses from the get-go," he said.