John Mackey

John Mackey, CEO and co-founder of Whole Foods, discusses the strategies and techniques used at Whole Foods Market of integrating love into the corporate workplace before a large audience of Lead With Love Leadership Summit attendees at Doerr-Hosier Center at Aspen Meadows Resort Friday afternoon.

A diverse crowd, with all ages and genders well represented, filled the Doerr-Hosier Center at the Aspen Meadows Resort Friday afternoon to hear Whole Foods CEO John Mackey talk about the need for heart-centered leadership and moving the world’s corporations to a culture based on love rather than fear. Titled “Bringing Love out of the Corporate Closet” and part of this weekend’s Lead With Love Summit, the event was timed to coincide with the launch of the Roaring Fork Valley chapter of Conscious Capitalism Inc.

The most visible face of a growing movement worldwide, Conscious Capitalism Inc. officially came together from three different entities in 2010 and has been spreading its message of leading with love ever since. Now boasting 43 chapters in the U.S. and 13 other countries, the organization espouses values that, if Mackey is to believed, aren’t just the right way to do things; they’re necessary to a business’s evolution if it wants to survive in the modern world.

When they founded Conscious Capitalism, Mackey and CCI chairman Raj Sisodia identified some basic tenets to describe the sort of leadership and corporate citizenship they envisioned. Of these, the most important tenet for a corporation or other entity seeking to lead with love is purpose, something that seems at odds with the way businesses are typically perceived.

“The single biggest limitation to consciousness for a business is that it primarily exists to make money. That’s its purpose,” said Mackey, summing up the public view of companies. “But business is actually the greatest value creator in the world. It creates more value for more people than all the governments and all the nonprofits put together by a hundred times.”

Accepting, then, that businesses and capitalism are intrinsic to most people’s lives, the challenge becomes to move businesses into a sphere where companies treat customers, employees and the planet in a way that perpetuates caring, community and right practices. The upside is that those organizations that are able to do just that are the ones that are more successful in the long term, even if love is something that has often been associated with weakness or indolence.

“Love is something you do at home, or you do in yoga class, or you do with your friends,” said Mackey, “but you’re supposed to check that at the door when you walk into this corporate office, and it’s like, ‘We’re going to win,’ or ‘We’re going to kill the competition.’ And yet love is not lazy. Love is the strongest thing, and the reason why conscious capitalism is going to win in the long run and the reason love is going to triumph is because it works better. It’s not weak; it’s strong, and companies that release love win.”    

Throughout his hour-long talk, Mackey reiterated the need for love to eclipse fear in the workplace for economic as well as humanitarian reasons. In an age when experiences and opinions, especially negative ones, are immediately disseminated online, a fear-based corporate culture will repel top-flight prospective employees. More importantly, fear is stifling to a business.

“Creativity is ultimately the only competitive advantage any organization has; the more creative organizations are going to be the more successful ones,” said Mackey. “Fear stops creativity.”

It’s a notion that is at the very heart of the Lead With Love Summit, which continues with more talks, yoga and meditation sessions through Sunday, Oct. 28. As it says front and center on its website, the organization, founded by Aspen local Gina Murdock, exists “to shift culture from fear to love.” It’s a big part of the reason Murdock partnered with Sisoda and Mackey to bring a Conscious Capitalism chapter to the Roaring Fork Valley, where it becomes the second one in the state after Conscious Capitalism Colorado.

In seeking local partners to kickstart the chapter, Murdock enlisted the support of three up-and-coming CEOs: Tyler Moebius, of Carbondale digital advertising firm Fast G8; Ants Cullwick, owner of Carbondale-based builder Koru; and Steev Wilson, of Aspen architecture and design firm Forum Phi. They’ll be tasked with spreading the message of conscious capitalism and getting other local companies on board.

Mackey closed by imploring the assembled crowd, which included numerous corporate movers and shakers, to, above all else, be kind in their businesses and spread the love. But then he stopped mid-sentence and corrected himself a little.

“There’s no reason not to be kind all the time. It should be a life habit,” he said. “There’s never a good excuse for not being kind.”

Todd Hartley is the special sections editor for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at todd@aspendailynews.com.