Whole Foods CEO Says He's Not Afraid to 'Speak Truth' to Jeff Bezos

 fortune.com  6/14/2018 9:57:25 PM   Kevin Kelleher

John Mackey isn’t afraid to “speak truth to power,” even if that power is his boss, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — because the Whole Foods CEO isn’t afraid to get fired.

Mackey made the comments Wednesday at a companywide town-hall meeting with Whole Foods employees, some of whom have been chafing under new management style since Amazon bought the grocery chain last year. Then audio his comments leaked to Business Insider.

“I’m sure that Amazon has probably gotten more disagreement from me than any other single person, and possibly more than everyone else combined,” Mackey told employees, according to the Business Insider report. “I have the least amount to lose. I have done this for 40 years, I am financially secure, I love Whole Foods.”

“I ultimately am not afraid to get fired, so — not that I think they are going to fire me, but I’m not afraid of it — so that gives me a position of strength to speak truth to power when it’s necessary to do so, and I’ve done it many, many times,” Mackey reportedly said. “And that’s been a good thing because Amazon has listened, and they have been very respectful, and they have backed off.”

Even if Mackey isn’t fired, he may be crowded out by other Amazon executives as the e-commerce giant works to integrate Whole Foods inside its plans to remake brick-and-mortar retail shopping. Mackey is already working alongside two Amazon executives, Rosanna Godden and Heather Dystrup-Chiang, according to an Amazon organization chart obtained by CNBC. Those Amazon executives may help integrate technology from Amazon Go stores into the grocery chain.

A year ago, Amazon made a surprise $13.7 billion bid for Whole Foods, throwing the rest of the grocery-retail market into disarray. Once the deal closed in August, Amazon wasted no time in offering discounts on some Whole Foods groceries and has since offered more perks such as further discounts for Amazon Prime members and branded products. Amazon also wants to roll out free delivery and cash-back rewards at the store.

The transition to Amazon ownership has caused some Whole Foods workers their share of new job stress. Mackey sought to reassure them by saying he will fight for them, and that the store’s principles and values would stay intact. Then he strayed into a bizarre tangent after comparing the merger to a marriage.

“I would say that those of you that are going to be married — and happily married — are going to change,” Mackey said. “You may not intend to, but I promise you: If you don’t change, you will not stay married. It just comes with the territory — particularly if you are a man — you will not stay married.”

Mackey has a point, sort of. Many people in investment banking describe mergers as a kind of corporate matrimony. Yet most marriages aren’t about speaking truth to power.

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