Whole Foods founder John Mackey says in an interview published in the New York Post on Thursday that he regrets if his business management movement Conscious Capitalism has inadvertently pushed some companies to push a liberal agenda over good business practices.
The trend of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) has businesses forcing such issues as green energy or gender or racial diversity mandates on board composition, Mackey, who is set to retire in September told Carrie Sheffield in an interview for the Post.
Conscious Capitalism's goal is to have a higher purpose for a company rather than just raking in profits, he said, but it doesn't mandate anything, and it never imposes anything that harms the company, the shareholders or the customer.
"It's very hard to sell people on, 'Hey, your job at Whole Foods is to make as much money for the shareholders as possible,'" he explained of his philosophy. "That's not aspirational, and every business has potential for a higher purpose besides maximizing profits."
Ultimately, the purpose of business is to create value for customers, he said: goods and services that other people want to buy. "That's the essence of business. And so the higher purpose of the business will come from that type of value creation."
But ESG erodes that standard of consumer welfare, he told the Post.
"ESG is basically not a management philosophy," Mackey said. "They're trying to force certain political values down the throats of all businesses, their own values, their own personal values that they believe should be done."
Mackey is a libertarian, but ESG proponents bend to the left and they seek to see their values on the environment, diversity, race, equality, and equity forced on companies, he said.
"But mostly it's about power," Makey stressed. "They don't want investors to have control of their businesses. … Insofar as Conscious Capitalism influenced people to do this, then I regret it. I think the owners control businesses, not intellectuals, not government bureaucrats, people that actually understand the business and can consciously run those businesses in ways that will create more value."
It remains to be seen whether ESG is here to stay, Mackey said. That, he predicts, will depend on how much pushback there is to it.
Sheffield writes that ESG is getting pushback from such places as investment firms Strive Asset Management, Amberwave Partners, and the State Financial Officers Foundation (SFOF) — a group of 23 state treasurers in charge of trillions of dollars in state budgets and retirement funds.
"SFOF takes Mackey's advice to heart," SFOF President Derek Kreifels told the Post. "It's wrong to forcibly take retirees' and other shareholders' money and invest it in partisan agendas that deliver subpar results and don't align with investors' values."
He said his group plans to "tenaciously" keep fighting "to ensure markets operate freely and deliver the best returns, especially for vulnerable retirees."
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