Nine months after opening the first Whole Foods, what’s known as the “100-year flood” came through Austin and severely damaged the store and destroyed all our inventory. I thought that this was the end and that Whole Foods would never recover given the extensive amount of inventory and capital that was lost.
But, after just 28 days, we were back in business thanks to an outpouring of support from our customers, suppliers, friends, family, and the community. Without their help, Whole Foods would have never survived. This was the first moment I recognized the importance of the stakeholder model and experienced the power of love in business.
After cleaning up the store and getting products back on the shelves, there was one thing we still desperately needed: cash! I decided to head down to the City National Bank in Austin and ask for a loan. I remember being so nervous and dressing “fancy” to try and impress the banker. I met with local banker, Mark Monroe, and explained our situation. To my surprise, he later informed me that the bank had agreed to give us a $100,000 loan. I was obviously deeply grateful and thrilled, but was also shocked that my signature carried any weight with a bank at this stage in my life. This loan allowed us to get back on our feet and open our second store, which signified the beginning of Whole Foods’ growth and expansion.
Ten years ago, I ran into a man who told me that he used to work at the City National Bank in Austin and knew Mark Monroe. He went on to tell me a story that blew my mind. The bank actually didn’t approve the loan – Mark Monroe personally guaranteed it. I asked this man why Mark would do something like this. I barely knew him, and our success track record at that time was short and limited. He said that Mark trusted me and knew that I had deep integrity and would pay the loan back no matter what. I immediately asked if he was in touch with Mark so I could personally thank him and express my gratitude. I sadly learned that he passed away a few years prior.
As we celebrate World Kindness Day, I am reminded of all the countless acts of kindness, big and small, that have helped support the survival and growth of Whole Foods Market. I will always reserve a special place in my heart for Mark Monroe, the banker who showed us kindness and believed in us when we needed it most.
Today and every day, let’s continue to champion the power of kindness and the role that people like Mark play in the lives of aspiring entrepreneurs.