Our guest this week is Walter Robb, the former co-CEO of Whole Foods. Back in 1978, Walter started a store and in 1991 it was bought by John Mackey and it became store number 12 for Whole Foods. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for Union Square Hospitality Group, The Container Store, FoodMaven, and HeatGenie. He’s also an investor, mentor, and advisor.
You can watch the video of our full discussion below or just listen to the audio version as a podcast. If you want more content like this you can subscribe to our Youtube channel.
Finding your passion
Walter found his passion when reading Adelle Davis and books from other early nutritionists and that’s when he started making his own bread. He knew he wanted to contribute to the world and he believed that this could be the way he would do it. And that’s when he started his store.
As Walter shares, finding your passion is an individual journey that every person has to take. And it can be tough because it is easy to feel outside pressure from parents, family, or friends around what they think you should be doing with your life, but you will never be able to be satisfied until you are doing something that you love and care about.
Finding what you want to do in life isn’t a cut and dry thing, and it may change over time, but there is joy that comes from doing what you’re supposed to be doing in life. To start you have to take the time to ask yourself what is the purpose of your life and how do you want to spend your time. What are your gifts, what are you good at, what tools do you have? If you are doing something that you are not excited about, you may not be able to change your circumstance immediately, but you should be thinking about how you can move to something you can get excited about.
Walter says, “I would say from my experience that for entrepreneurs particularly, learning to trust themselves, knowing that they'll make mistakes, knowing it won't be a straight road, but trying to build their confidence in that inner light, that light inside themselves that they trusted in the first place, is really what's really key to a successful journey.”
The three basic questions that entrepreneurs should ask themselves honestly is--who are you working with? What are you working on? Where are you doing it? And use that to figure out where you can contribute and where you can do something that hasn’t been done before.
What happens when passion and profit aren’t aligned
As the former co-CEO of a public company, Walter knows the tensions that can arise between profit and passion or purpose. Money is a big part of running a company, if you don’t make money you aren’t going to be able to continue doing what you love and shareholders deserve their fair return. But, Walter says, shareholders do not deserve to dominate the purpose of the company, as they are only one of the stakeholders in the success of the company.
Profit and passion are not inconsistent with each other, you need money to pay for the business but you also have to keep your Northstar in mind. It’s all about the way that you hold them together that makes the difference.
And it’s the same for entrepreneurs, but you’ve got to learn how to make your dollar stretch and you’ve got to know how to put the money you do have in the right place. But at the end of the day, if your business is not making money, it doesn’t matter what product or service you have that can change people’s lives, you won’t be able to sustain it.
As Walter shares, you always have to be thinking about where the money is coming from, but it shouldn’t be the dominant question to why the company exists.
The new era of business
Walter believes that we are in a new era of what he calls “transparency, accountability, and responsibility.” Customers today expect the businesses they buy from to be accountable for their behavior, responsible for their presence, and a contributory towards the greater good in some way, shape, or form.
A lot of companies are trying to pretend to be what customers want or they think they know what customers want when they don’t and therefore they stretch awkwardly in directions that make no sense or look inauthentic. But there are also a lot of companies doing it right.
“I do think that the customer of today, these generations have a much higher expectation of how a company will show up before they will reward them with their business. And I think that's great, because, you know, it is going to take business-- and all of business--to really create the changes we need to create a more sustainable future.”
Businesses can be a powerful force of good for their employees, their communities, and the planet. We need the business community to lead and set examples and put these things into practice. And embracing Walter’s three main points of transparency, accountability, and responsibility is critical to getting to the point where businesses can have an impact.
What does Walter look for in entrepreneurs he may invest in
There are two main areas that Walter looks for when an entrepreneur comes to him with an idea to invest in. First of all, the idea has to make sense, it has to be a good fit for the current market. He asks himself if he would be a customer of the business.
Secondly, he looks at the entrepreneur as an individual. Do they have confidence, do they have what it takes to pull the idea off, do they attract the right kind of talent? He invests in entrepreneurs who are determined, competent, and scrappy. And he looks at the team they have surrounded themselves with because if intelligent, talented people are willing to give up a steady job for a startup with this entrepreneur, that’s a great sign.
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