In 1978, John Mackey and his then-girlfriend Renee Lawson opened their first vegetarian food store in an old Victorian home in Austin. They had modest ambitions: to make a living, have fun, and help a few people live healthier by eating better. A bearded, shaggy-haired college dropout, Mackey had just turned 25 and thought profit was little more than a "necessary evil."
Fast forward: Whole Foods Market now has more than 300 supermarkets and over 56,000 employees (or "team members"). The success of the upscale food retailer has changed the way many of the industry's mainstream competitors operate. "If you told me 20 years ago that Wal-Mart would be one of the leading sellers of organic foods in the world, I would have thought that was ridiculous," the 58-year-old Mackey says.
How does he do it? Among the six fundamental precepts that are at the core of Whole Foods are a commitment to sell the highest-quality natural and organic products available, satisfy and delight the customers, and promote environmental stewardship. Many companies have mission statements with lofty principles that are little more than wall hangings.
Their impact may not be as deep at that of our contenders, but these five innovators still stand in a class of their own.
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