KANSAS CITY — Since retiring from Whole Foods Market last September, John Mackey, former chief executive officer, seemed at ease discussing the lessons learned from more than 40 years since he co-founded the natural food retail chain. Well almost.

When someone asked his opinion about Amazon Fresh and how it’s evolved over the past five years, Mr. Mackey refused to answer the question, but added, “Let’s just say I gave Amazon lots of advice, and most of it was ignored.”

During the recent NEXT 2023 event by Intralox in New Orleans, he talked about the challenge of being all things to a diverse variety of consumers and how difficult it is to predict the future of retailing. Tipping his hat to the legendary Yogi Berra, he said, “It’s very difficult to make predictions, especially about the future and the reasons why innovation continues to occur.”

Mr. Mackey said nobody can anticipate when real innovation occurs. He also seemed relaxed at not managing a bureaucracy that comes with a retail chain with more than 100,000 employees.

“I have a new mantra: It’s not my problem anymore,” he said to a couple of tough questions by the audience. Then again, as the “father of Whole Foods,” he couldn’t help wishing the company the best and hoping that the culture that he helped build continues to thrive at the retailer.

“My grandest hope for Whole Foods is that, despite being now part of Amazon, that ‘love’ part of Whole Foods is going to survive because it’s been part of our culture,” he said.

Who says CEOs don’t put their heart into the businesses they run?