How a Trusted Leader Gains an Edge

In the late 1980s, Whole Foods Company Chairman and CEO, John Mackey, set the pay ceiling for his executives at no more than eight times the pay of an entry-level employee. This ceiling has been raised a few times since then, but Whole Foods Company is one of the few international companies to have a pay ceiling at all. Mackey has successfully opposed the unionization of his stores, not because of a disrespect for his workers, but because his competitive wages and progressive benefits packages would make unionization counter-productive.

Amidst the high growth of the health food store chain, it would have been easy for Mackey to demand a larger salary. Instead, he refused his stock option bonus because it would have violated company rules. Later, Mackey reduced his own salary to $1 per year, donated all his stocks to charity, and set up a $100,000 emergency fund to be used by employees who were facing financial problems. While this was an uncommon gesture for a CEO, Whole Foods employees were not shocked by it. Mackey’s character and his priorities were established long before Fortune Magazine discovered him.

Mackey set an example for his organization. He’s trusted, top to bottom, and has used that trust to spread a vision for greater impact and a stronger company. As a result, Whole Foods has grown from one store to more than 200, becoming the world’s largest organic retailer. Profits have grown beyond $200 million. By keeping his word as clean as his food, Mackey’s been able to lead his company through an intense period of growth. Though his leadership style is bold and unusual, you cannot argue with his unbelievable level of integrity and resulting success. Mackey has developed The Trust Edge.