John Mackey, co-founder and chief executive of organic sensation Whole Foods Market, apparently thinks he looks cute. Or at least he used to. Then again, maybe he never did. According to a new posting on Whole Foods’ website, the views Mr Mackey reportedly expressed during several years as an anonymous blogger “sometimes represent what I actually believed and sometimes they didn’t”.
Had his views been confined to his alleged good looks, Mr Mackey’s online messages might merit merely a few laughs. Unfortunately, he also seems to have opined on the apparently strong likelihood of his company’s stock soaring, as well as the weaknesses of rival Wild Oats Markets, which Whole Foods now wants to acquire. Mr Mackey, correctly, says that his postings were personal and typed under a pseudonym (“rahodeb”, an anagram of his wife’s name, Deborah). From a legal standpoint, therefore, this anonymity, along with the web’s inherent untrustworthiness as a source, means no one can claim to have been misled.
But there is a wider issue: if you were investing in a company, could not the knowledge that the man running it was doing this potentially affect your decision? Some might say that Mr Mackey merely bolstered his unconventional credentials, which form part of Whole Foods’ appeal. Certainly, Whole Foods’ stock has not plummeted. On the other hand, Mr Mackey’s web postings are now being used against Whole Foods in a competition review of its attempted takeover of Wild Oats.
Clearly, the episode raises questions over Mr Mackey’s judgment. If this was all meant just as harmless fun, why run the risk of it coming out and potentially damaging the company? The difficulty is that Whole Foods’ identity is tied closely to Mr Mackey’s persona: he is, after all, the man who built a $5.5bn success story. As Whole Foods’ board ponders how to deal with the fallout, it might reflect on the gloomy fact that another anagram of Deborah is “bad hero”.
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