Whole Foods Not So Whole

I’ve watched the debacle surrounding John Mackey’s pseudonymous antics with growing disgust. Boing Boing has a nice, succinct version of events. Here’s the basics:

  • Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods, using the name Rahodeb, talked serious smack about competitor Wild Oats, Inc., in a Yahoo stock forum.
  • For eight (!) years, Mackey spread his “ideas” around the web under the identity of Rahodeb, including attacks on Wild Oats management and defending his own haircut.
  • Mackey, after bashing Wild Oats, then went on to extend an offer for the company earlier this year.
  • Now, thanks to the FTC releasing the related documents, we know about Mackey’s secret identity.

One last detail—and this one kills me—Mackey has a blog. Why, oh why, didn’t he talk about these issues on his blog? At the very least, what possessed him to stay anonymous?

Via Reason magazine, I found this interesting statement from Mackey. It appeared in an article where he’d taken an opposing position to Milton Friedman, defending corporate philanthropy:

To extend our love and care beyond our narrow self-interest is antithetical to neither our human nature nor our financial success. Rather, it leads to the further fulfillment of both. Why do we not encourage this in our theories of business and economics? Why do we restrict our theories to such a pessimistic and crabby view of human nature? What are we afraid of?

I’m curious what part of Mackey’s human nature sees value in writing negative and anonymous comments about his competitor. What was he afraid of? Why didn’t he openly embrace these ideas? Can you imagine the conversations started if he’d signed his comments, “John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO?”

Winston Churchill said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” (link) Fair or not, Mackey as the leader of a publicly traded company has sacrificed his right to anonymity. He still deserves his privacy, but his responsibility as Whole Foods’ leader trumps the desire to stay anonymous.

Why are we so afraid to be associated with our words? The evening news is a prime example: “an unnamed administration official said…” What does it say about you if you can’t own your words?

Words have power. Accept it and the responsibility that goes along with it. And don’t assume you’ve escaped this responsibility if you don’t have a blog or post your comments. Even if it’s the neighborhood grapevine, the same rules apply. Please don’t become the next Rahodeb or unnamed government official. You’re better than that.



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July 2007
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