Whole Foods Markets chief executive John Mackey said he will step down next year from the upscale grocer he co-founded more than four decades ago.
“Honestly, it’s very hard to retire from a company that I have helped to create, nourish and grow for 44 years,” the outspoken executive wrote in a Thursday blog post to employees.
“All parents reach a time when they must let go and trust that the values imparted will live on within their children,” Mackey added. “That time has nearly come for me and for Whole Foods.”
The pioneering grocer said he had hand-picked his successor as CEO, Jason Buechel, four years before Amazon acquired Whole Foods in 2017 for $13.4 billion. Buechel, currently the company’s chief operating officer, joined the company in 2013.
The 500-store chain had been struggling before Amazon swooped in. The deal rattled the grocery industry, which feared an armageddon for conventional supermarkets. But that didn’t happen and in some ways Amazon is forging its own path with grocery stores, launching Amazon Fresh and Amazon Go stores over the past couple of years.
The 68-year-old Houston native said he would pursue his “other life passions” when he retires a year from now, without providing details.
Over the years, Mackey has been known for his controversial remarks about healthy eating including an incident this year in which he told Freakonomics host Stephen Dubner, “I mean, honestly, we talk about health care. The best solution is not to need health care.” He also caused a stir when he beseeched other corporate titans last year to condemn socialism, which he dubbed as “trickle-up poverty.”
In recent years, Whole Foods has battled labor unions and complaints about its high prices, and was aptly nicknamed “Whole Paycheck” — an image that it has not yet shaken even as Amazon overhauled some of the less expensive, private-label merchandise.
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