The Business Anarchist Is The New Entrepreneur

Maybe an entrepreneur and anarchist have more in common than most people think. John Mackey’s Whole Foods revolution and Tod Murphy’s Farmer’s Diner both share one thing in common as managers: they have disregarded and rejected the norms surrounding their respective industries and have forged new paths to reshape the food industry, arguably much like an anarchist does with a governing system. Although some may argue that they are both simply entrepreneurs, it seems to me that these two men cannot simply be thrown into the typical definition of an entrepreneur:



a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, esp. a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.

Therefore, it seems to me that their vision for the future and the principles they run their businesses on classify them as something more than just an entrepreneur. Could they be closer to business anarchists? They both possess the knowledge and hope that their businesses have the potential to alter the direction of the food industry as a whole. So, what can we learn as managers from these two men?

Although most entrepreneurs are not as successful (let alone as visionary) as these two men, their leadership and management styles reveal two important lessons to be considered before we enter the wide world of management. These lessons are not revolutionary by any means, just sometimes overlooked and/or forgotten.

Lesson #1: The ways of the past may not be the best ways for the future.

It’s going to be difficult when we first enter the working world to drastically alter or reject certain norms if in an entry-level position. However, as our careers evolve, complacency may become customary and accepted with regard to our roles and behaviors. Mackey and Murphy remind us that even the most entrenched practices and expectations need revamped and reevaluated from time to time. Much like the mentality of anarchy, constantly questioning and challenging is key to improvement and change. Although this is a seemingly demanding call to action for change, I think that even the smallest critical thought or change of ways have more potential than we think to affect the ways of the future. This may sound very idealistic, I know, but important that we at least try to keep in mind the bigger picture and find ways to make things better for ourselves, other people and most importantly for the greater cause we are trying to pursue.

Lesson #2: Mackey teaches us to remember that organizations are most importantly about people.

By rejecting the commonplace practices of how employees are hired, promoted and even managed, Mackey’s anarchical view of managing people has led him to arguably have one of the best companies to work for in the country. Why is this so? From his willingness to pay for all of his employee’s health insurance to the highly decentralized and regional decision making processes, Mackey puts his own unique twist on formal organizational structure and manages his people to reflect the way in which I think he would want to be managed himself. Sometimes, the stress and pressure to accomplish formal goals and tasks can blind us from taking time to think about the people who are actually going to achieve these goals. Sounds pretty familiar to the human relations model discussed in the text…right? So let’s consider Mackey’s case as one of the most illustrative examples of the impact that the human relations model can potentially have when applied in an organization (if implemented properly, of course). And, who would have thought that this model could have ever related to a manager with anarchy inherent in his management.


11 Responses

  1. It is true that organizations should be about the people. If the people do not feel good in the place the organization itself may not have a happy feel to it. This could keep possible customers and investors away. If the people are happy and dedicated, it is likely that others will feel this way toward the organization. It is nice to see that Mackey understands the importance of the people (some managers in todays society are too profit driven to notice this).

  2. Good structure, overall.

    I would like to know what you think an anarchist is?

    You say that these two are different than a typicla entrepreneur. In what ways?

  3. This is exactly why I could not buy into the argument in the book that happy workers are not necessarily more efficient. I believe all you have to do is look at the number one company, Google, to show how wrong that theory is. Google has created a workplace environment concentrated on making the employees happy. They have gourmet chefs, free dry cleaning and baby sitting, and a workplace environment that (The Googleplex) that looks more like an amusement park that an office ( Not surprisingly most of the companies sharing the top of the list with Google are equally as successful. It’s strange that you don’t hear success stories about companies who treat their employees terribly and beat them with sticks (Wal-Mart maybe being the exception).

  4. This whole employee happiness/productivity thing is really interesting when you think about the way you define success within an organization. Yes, Google is a successful company and I am sure he high level executives make an absurd amount of money. But unlike Wall Street firms, the success of a company like Google isn’t evaluated based on how much money the CEO made or what bonuses were given at year end. I just think it’s so ridiculous how much people are paid at these financial firms and look how they’ve ended up. Successful? Not really. It kind of seems like employees are paid so much at financial firms to make up for how bad the quality of life is. Maybe if all companies cut back salaries a little and put that money towards offering their employees the kind of treatment at places like Whole Foods, we could start to climb out of the mess we’re in and we’d all be better off in the end.

  5. I completely agree with you Holly. Now that Obama has successfully placed a cap on executive compensation as a part of the new stimulus bill, it will be really interesting to see if this will be an effective way to turn these exorbitant businesses practices around.

  6. I normally would agree 100% with both lessons in your blog. However, after reading “The Smartest Guys in the Room” I think it’s necessary to mention how it is important to maintain a health balance. Sometimes its necessary to not challenge the way things are done to much, and sometimes its necessary to not reward employees to much as well. We saw how Fastow stretched rules and crossed the line, and we saw how Lay believed completely in over rewarding employees. The public blames Fastow and Lay largely for the fall of Enron. This only suggests to me the key to carefully balancing methods to successfully run an organization.

  7. […] few businesses have gone partway down this path already: see, for example, the post “The Business Anarchist Is The New Entrepreneur”, on the Bloginization weblog, which references two well-known food-retail chains on the US, John […]

  8. Leah,

    Pingback above is to someone who is writing on similar topic.

    Check it out!

  9. How do you reconcile a description of Whole Foods as anarchist with Bruce Schneier’s description of Whole Foods as petty and legalistic?

    Can these two apparently conflicting descriptions be reconciled? What other descriptions can you find? Do these apparent contradictions represent superficial differences or deep divisions?

  10. Hello.This article was extremely fascinating, especially since I was browsing for thoughts on this issue last Wednesday.

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