31 years ago today marks a very important moment for both me and Whole Foods – it was the day of our Initial Public Offering!
Back in 1992, we had 12 stores and desperately wanted to grow, but cash constraints continued to be a problem. We needed a solution. The venture capital (VC) money we previously raised was gone and I didn’t want to do another round of venture capital fundraising and risk giving majority control of the company to the VCs. (I often joke that VCs are like hitchhikers with credit cards – as long as you take them to where they want to go, they will help you pay for the gas; but if you don’t take them where they want to go, they will try to hijack the car and throw you out on the side of the road and hire another driver). So, we decided it was time to take the company public and get the VC hitchhikers out of the car.
With an initial public offering price of $17 per share, our IPO raised $28 million valuing the company at $100 million. It was an incredible experience and hands down one of the happiest days of my life. I felt like I had delivered to all my friends, family, and fellow Team Members who had believed in me and Whole Foods. We had provided liquidity for all of them, and they were free to sell their stock and gain wealth. Eventually, many thousands of them did, which created tangible wealth for themselves and their families.
From here, we had the capital needed to accelerate growth and we began acquiring numerous additional natural foods chains, including Bread & Circus – the Northeast’s largest natural food retailer – and Mrs. Gooch’s in Los Angeles. These were the two most important acquisitions we ever made because of the intellectual capital we gained in perishables and the tremendous influx of talented leaders who joined our team and helped take Whole Foods to the next level.
The IPO changed the trajectory of the company and without it, Whole Foods would not have grown into the successful business it is today. It also provided me with the runway I needed to grow as a leader and a person.