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Pick of the Day: The man behind the produce

whole food.jpg

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey juggles apples in one of his stores on New York's Upper West Side. Photo by Richard Drew/ AP

Profiles are all about peeling away the layers -- noting the nail-biting habit that betrays a politician’s confidence or the wrinkled cuffs of an otherwise well-suited man that hint at a private carelessness. And Nick Paumgarten does a great job of this in his profile of Whole Foods co-founder and chief executive John Mackey in The New Yorker this week.

Paumgarten was online yesterday for the magazine, answering readers' questions about the piece in a live chat.

In the profile, which can be found here, we see not only the contradictions of the store (called “Whole Paycheck” by some and “Holy Foods” by others), but also how they mirror the man behind it (Mackey has made millions from the grocery store empire but still flies commercial).

Paumgarten writes at one point: We talked briefly about Frisbee golf, his game of choice. He was dressed in khakis, a pleather belt, trail shoes, and a green polo shirt with a Whole Foods logo. He is not a guy who cares a lot about how he looks, unless he cares a lot about appearing not to care. He has angular eyebrows and tousled hair. His disposition was serene, but you could sense a prickly, Jesuitical undercurrent coursing beneath it.

And this: With Mackey, it’s natural to wonder: is he at heart an entrepreneur, who discovered, in natural foods, a worthy vehicle for self-actualization and self-enrichment, or a missionary, who discovered in the grocery business a worldly vehicle for change?

“So that’s a very interesting question,” he said, leaning forward. “How are they opposed to one another? People think that they are, but why do you think they’re opposed?"

By Theresa Vargas  | December 31, 2009; 8:03 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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