Power Players

Whole Foods CEO on life with Amazon: 'It's like a marriage – I love them 98% of time'

John Mackey, chief executive officer of Whole Foods Market Inc., speaks during a panel discussion at the World Health Care Congress in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, April 6, 2011.
Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

It's been a little more than two years since Amazon bought Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in June of 2017.

The deal has been Amazon's biggest bet yet: In addition to expanding the online retailer's brick-and-mortar footprint, it has also helped Amazon in its efforts to dominate the $700 billion grocery industry.

In an interview with CNBC Make It, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey says the past two years under Amazon have been similar to his 29-year marriage to his wife, Deborah.

"Do I absolutely love everything about my wife? The answer is that I love about 98%," he says. "There are little things that I wish were different, but you can't really change people."

"Amazon is like a marriage," he says. "Do we love absolutely everything about Amazon? No. We probably love 98%."

CEO of Whole Foods Market, John Mackey and Deborah Mackey attend The Humane Society of The United States' to The Rescue! Los Angeles Gala held at Paramount Studios on April 21, 2018.
(Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)

Mackey's attitude seems to have changed: He was initially forced into selling Whole Foods by activist investor Jana Partners, and a year ago Mackey made headlines after Business Insider obtained leaked audio of him describing early scuffles with Amazon at a company town hall.

"I'm sure that Amazon has probably gotten more disagreement from me than any other single person, and possibly more than everyone else combined," Mackey said, according to Business Insider.

"I have done this for 40 years, I am financially secure, I love Whole Foods," he continued. "I ultimately am not afraid to get fired so — not that I think they are going to fire me — but I'm not afraid of it, so that gives me a position of strength to speak truth to power when it's necessary to do so, and I've done it many, many times."

But despite any conflict, Mackey, a college dropout who started Whole Foods almost 39 years ago, tells CNBC Make It his feelings towards Amazon's team remain the same as when they first met during merger talks in 2017.

"My first impression when I met the Amazon team was that these are really, really smart people. Jeff [Bezos] has built a great team — and that's why Amazon is so successful," Mackey tells CNBC Make It.

Bezos is "brilliant," he adds. "I'm less brilliant, but I've also got a great team."

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