AUSTIN, TEXAS — John Mackey, co-founder and chief executive officer of Whole Foods Market, voluntarily relinquished his title of chairman on Dec. 24. Mr. Mackey, who had been chairman since the company’s inception in 1978, will be replaced by John B. Elstrott, a member of the board since 1995 and lead director since 2001. According to Whole Foods, the board shifted all of the responsibilities of the chairman’s position to the lead director position in 2000, rendering the chairman’s role "a mere title." "The company repeatedly has received proposals from corporate activists to separate the chairman and c.e.o. roles," the company said in a Dec. 24 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. "To avoid unnecessary distraction and protect the company’s corporate governance profile, Mr. Mackey believes giving up the chairman title to be in the best interests of the company and its stakeholders."