Whole Foods, Detroit, & Leadership

I had the pleasure and opportunity of attending University of Michigan Ross School of Business’s Positive Leaders Series last night featuring speaker Walter Robb, Co-CEO of Whole Foods. The event was over an hour of interactive discussion between an MBA filled audience and Walter. The presenting panel invited us to live “tweet” our questions (hashtag #RossTalks) which was an interesting and exciting way to engage with such an esteemed presenter among so many. As a socially aware company, we’re interested in how businesses are unfolding and approaching the Detroit marketplace. Get ready to welcome the Whole Foods Detroit store this summer, June 5th.


As you may or may not know Whole Foods started in 1980 out of Austin Texas. We know how the rest has unfolded. Although the audience asked smart questions, Mr. Robb opened up with the most captivating: “We ask ourselves, as we grow, how do we keep our soul?” Seems non-traditional. Seems like a far cry from the typical MBA curiosities driven by “How do you keep stakeholders happy?” Robb gave anticipated answers before anyone could even ask. He answered the question with his own version of the question: “How is success tied to stakeholders AND communities?” A much more integral way to look at things. We like it.


I took away morsels of wisdom, recommended books to read, and unconventional strategies for the modern day leader. As architects, we believe leadership and design are one in the same. Design challenges are community challenges. Leadership challenges are organizational challenges. In essence, we’re constantly creating in a manner that impacts the interdependent world we live in.


Whole Foods lives and breathes by their evolving missions and commitments to customers and the people they employ. According to Robb the term “sustainability” is too vague for today’s marketplaces. We need to define sustainability within the communities it serves. There’s a resurgence in Detroit that Michigan is most certainly aware of, and that may only be acutely noticeable to the country at large. But we’re passionate about being at the forefront of these efforts. As architects, our designs outlive us. What better place to breathe life than back into the place that has depressed us for so long?


The audience anxiously anticipated Robb’s final words. He was consistently motivating and inspirational – fitting for the guy behind on of the happiest places to grocery shop. He left us with “There’s a difference between the person who is thinking about returns quarter to quarter, and the person who wants to build a company that will last 100 years.”


Thank you to Whole Foods for being a conscious player in this world, and for seeing our downtown as a place of opportunity. We dedicate ourselves to rebuilding Detroit through The Collaborative’s niche channel, Studio Detroit, the place where we design and play with urban ideas.





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