Some people can go their entire life without ever discovering their higher purpose, but I was lucky enough to discover mine when I co-founded Safer Way Natural Foods in 1978 and Whole Foods Market in 1980. Words cannot express how deeply grateful I am for this incredible journey and how much love I have for the company. Below are my retirement announcement and farewell note that I shared with the 100k+ Team Members who have been, and will always be, the heart of the company. Now, I am excited to continue working on my next adventure!
Dear Fellow Team Members,
I’d like to share some news with you before it’s announced publicly. September marked Whole Foods Market’s 43rd anniversary (including 2 years at Safer Way — the precursor to Whole Foods) and I’ve decided that it’s time to begin to transition my role as CEO to the next generation of leadership. I have thought long and hard about this, and while it is still surreal to write, I have decided to retire on September 1, 2022. That is just about 11 months from today.
Honestly, it’s very hard to retire from a company that I have helped to create, nourish and grow for 44 years when I leave. As a co-founder of Whole Foods, I’ve often explained my relationship to the company with a parent-child metaphor. As a parent, I have always loved Whole Foods with all my heart. I have done my best to instill strong values, a clear sense of higher purpose beyond profits, and a loving culture that allows the company and all our interdependent stakeholders to flourish. All parents reach a time when they must let go and trust that the values imparted will live on within their children. That time has nearly come for me and for Whole Foods.
Next September, I’ll be ready to pursue some of my other life passions and I am excited to announce that our Chief Operating Officer, Jason Buechel, will become Chief Executive Officer upon my retirement. Jason is a true servant leader and champion of Whole Foods’ culture and values, and he will lead the company into the future. Jason was my personal choice to replace me as the CEO and I’m pleased Amazon leadership agreed that he is the right person for the role.
Jason joined Whole Foods in 2013 as Global Vice President and Chief Information Officer and was promoted in 2015 to Executive Vice President before being named Chief Operating Officer in 2019. In addition to being responsible for the operations of all WFM stores and facilities, he also currently oversees technology, supply chain and distribution, and Team Member Services (TMS). Jason is one of my most trusted partners and I’m incredibly confident that the company will continue to evolve and thrive under his leadership. Jason has a number of very special qualities that will help him succeed as our next CEO. Not only is he extraordinarily intelligent with unusually high integrity, he is also a servant leader who lives and embodies Whole Foods Core Values and Leadership Principles and is fundamentally just a good and loving person.
I’ll continue to work closely with Jason and the E-Team to gradually transition my responsibilities and I intend to devote much of my final year to the thing I love doing most at Whole Foods – visiting stores and connecting with as many of our amazing Team Members as I possibly can.
As I reflect on our company’s history and impact on the world, I am inspired, exceptionally proud, and a little overwhelmed. The success of Whole Foods Market has created tremendous value for all our stakeholders, including our customers, Team Members, suppliers, investors, and our communities. Working together, we have helped tens of millions of people live healthier lives and it is not an exaggeration to say that Whole Foods has impacted very positively the way many people in America and around the world eat. We have created a very special culture that led to our being named one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” for 20 consecutive years. I am very proud of the role we’ve played in advancing the natural and organic food movement and establishing quality standards that have raised the bar for the larger food industry. How food is grown, produced and sourced matters and fulfilling our higher purpose to nourish people and the planet is what makes Whole Foods so much more than just a grocery store. I’m also proud of the thousands of small local food companies that Whole Foods helped launch in our stores, hundreds of which have grown to be large and successful companies in their own right. While there are so many more of our achievements that I’m proud of, I want to especially recognize the amazing work that our three Foundations have done over the past 20 years — Whole Planet, Whole Kids, and Whole Cities have together positively impacted the lives of several millions of people.
Many people can go their entire lives without ever discovering their higher purpose, but I was lucky enough to discover mine back in 1976 when I was living in a vegetarian co-op named Prana House in Austin — two years before we first opened Safer Way. My food consciousness was first awakened at Prana and I began to discover what I was called to do in this life. How fortunate I have been to live in such a fulfilling way.
Words cannot begin to express how deeply grateful I am for your partnership on this incredible journey and how much I love the company and all of you. I may be retiring from Whole Foods a year from now, but so long as I am still alive, I will remain connected to Whole Foods and will do all that I possibly can to help us all continue to flourish.
I love all of you very much and I wish for you great health and happiness. Thank you for all that you do.
Today is my final day at Whole Foods Market. After 44 incredible years, it is time for me to explore a few new adventures in life while I still have high vitality and excellent health. I want to start out by thanking everyone for all that you have done for Whole Foods! Together, we have created and built a pretty amazing company that has helped millions of people live healthier and better lives! We have helped evolve our agricultural system in positive ecological ways through organic foods, regenerative agriculture, sustainable seafood, and by supporting better farm animal welfare. Our foundations have helped lift millions of people out of poverty and have enabled healthier eating for millions of schoolchildren. I am so very proud of all that we have accomplished! I hope you are too.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to have worked with so many highly competent, dedicated, and caring Team Members! Thank you so very much for all that you have done in the past and will do in the future to serve our customers and to love and help each other. Every good leader knows that we are only as good as our team, and I have always worked with the best team in the world! Why did I stay so long at Whole Foods? Ultimately, it was about continuing to work with so many people that I deeply love.
To all the leaders at Whole Foods, I will leave you with a few principles to remember:
- Put Purpose First. Whole Foods exists to Nourish People and the Planet. Let us never forget why we are doing what we are doing every day.
- Lead with Love. When all is said and done in life, there is nothing more important than love. If our leaders will continue to lead with love, then Whole Foods will never lose its way and will continue to be a force for good.
- Integrity in All Things. Always do what you know is right in all circumstances. This takes courage, so be courageous.
- Empower Others. Empowerment is what leads to customer happiness and creates the environment where innovation flourishes. Innovation leads to competitive success. Our Team Members need to be empowered to do whatever it takes to make our customers happy!
On Thursday, Jason Buechel will become the new CEO of Whole Foods Market. I have tremendous confidence in Jason, and I am certain he is going to do a great job! He is a very special person, and we are very fortunate to have him leading the company going forward. Please support Jason and work with him to evolve Whole Foods to the highest level possible.
Goodbye, everyone. It has been such a privilege to have worked with you. I will always love this company and all the Team Members, who have always been the heart and soul of Whole Foods Market. Thank you!