Amazon-owned Whole Foods will replace co-founding CEO John Mackey in 2022

John Mackey, CEO of Amazon-owned grocer Whole Foods, will retire next year and step down from his role, the company announced Thursday.

Whole Foods’ current COO, Jason Buechel, will become the new CEO following Mackey’s retirement, the company said.

In a memo to employees, Mackey said he’s “ready to pursue some of my other life passions” after 43 years at Whole Foods and said Buechel is well-prepared to assume the role of CEO.

“I’ve decided that it’s time to begin to transition my role as CEO to the next generation of leadership,” Mackey said in the memo. “I have thought long and hard about this, and while it is still surreal to write, I have decided to retire on September 1, 2022.”

Mackey’s departure comes as Amazon has recently seen a stream of executives exit the company. Amazon founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos stepped down as CEO in July, with former cloud boss Andy Jassy taking over the helm. In August, Amazon confirmed that Charlie Bell, a top executive in its cloud business, is leaving the company. And Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon’s worldwide consumer business, stepped down earlier this year.

Amazon acquired Whole Foods in 2017 for $13.7 billion. The deal immediately sent shockwaves throughout the industry. Grocery store stocks including Kroger and Sprouts Farmers Market plunged following the deal’s announcement, as analysts interpreted the takeover as a signal of Amazon’s ambitions to compete against traditional supermarket chains.

Since then, Amazon has delved further into grocery, launching an array of online grocery delivery services, along with its own Fresh grocery chain and a chain of cashierless convenience stores. Despite fears that it would upend the grocery industry, Amazon still faces steep competition from the likes of Walmart, Target and Kroger.

Mackey in 1978 co-founded SaferWay, an Austin, Texas, natural grocery store that was the precursor to Whole Foods. Two years later, SaferWay combined with another local natural grocery store to form Whole Foods. It took off among Austin’s “counter culture hippie community,” Mackey told NPR, and went on to become a major player in the natural food market.

Before it was bought by Amazon, Whole Foods was under activist pressure to sell itself as investors balked at its poor performance. The deal with Amazon came together under intense secrecy and was referred to internally as “Project Athena.” Following the acquisition, Amazon slashed prices on many Whole Foods items and introduced more Amazon signage in stores, along with perks for Prime members.

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