PHILADELPHIA - The chief executive of organic supermarket chain Whole Foods Market Inc. is giving up his title of chairman, after years of petitioning by an activist shareholder group to separate the two roles.
Cofounder and CEO John Mackey is voluntarily giving up his chairmanship, a position he has held since the Austin, Texas, company’s inception in 1978, according to a filing this week with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Mackey will remain on the board.
Whole Foods said lead director John Elstrott will become chairman. His current position will be discontinued.
At Whole Foods’ annual shareholders meeting in March, CtW Investment Group, a shareholder activist group that works with union pension funds, unsuccessfully proposed that the CEO and chairman roles be separated. The grocer said it has been receiving these proposals for three years.
But in August, CtW raised the stakes by calling for the CEO’s removal. The activist group said an editorial by Mackey opposing President Obama’s health care plan damaged the company’s reputation, especially among its left-leaning customers.