Whole Foods founder
Mackey retakes helm in turnaround
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[November 03, 2016]
By Lisa Baertlein
ANGELES (Reuters) - Whole Foods Market Inc is staking its future on
blunt, vegan co-founder John Mackey, betting the man who built the
high-end health food grocery chain has the best shot of leading its
Whole Foods on Wednesday said Mackey would resume his job as solo chief
executive officer six years after he split the role with co-CEO Walter
Robb, known as the businessman who carried out Mackey's vision.
The Austin, Texas-based grocer has reported five quarters of falling
sales at established stores, and while the decline may be easing, Whole
Foods faces intense competition from retailers ranging from Kroger to
Walmart and Amazon.
"I like our positioning, but I'm not going to sugarcoat it ... We've got
to up our game and that's what we are intending to do," Mackey said on a
call reporting quarterly earnings.
He declined to elaborate on turnaround plans.
Mackey follows in the footsteps of other co-founders who re-established
control of their companies, said retail expert Bill Bishop. Starbucks
Corp <SBUX.O> co-founder Howard Schultz and Apple Inc <AAPL.O>
co-founder Steve Jobs each returned as CEOs when their companies
Whether Mackey, whose steadfast presence at the chain was briefly broken
by a five-month break to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2002, can pull
off that turnaround is not clear.
"In this fast-changing, very competitive market, the question is whether
the founder will have the skills to right the ship," said Bishop.
Mackey is an outspoken Libertarian with a proven knack for capitalizing
on nascent food trends. He adheres to a strict diet, but has come under
fire from food purists for selling meat and "natural" versions of junk
food such as chips and sugary drinks.
He also has courted controversy. For years before the company's purchase
of Wild Oats, Mackey used the alias "harobed," his wife's name spelled
backward, to post comments on Web forums praising Whole Foods and
criticizing Wild Oats.
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John Mackey, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, speaks at
the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California,
U.S., May 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Giving a single person command will make big changes easier, said Roger
Davidson, retail consultant at Oakton Advisory Group.
"You need the vision and direction coming from one leader," said
Davidson, who was an executive at Wild Oats when it was purchased by
Whole Foods in 2007.
"They need to make some hard decisions and go with them," he added,
arguing the company should slash its long-term plans for 1,200 stores in
half; speed up investment in its new, value-oriented 365 by Whole Foods
Market chain; and remodel stores.
(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
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