The Emperor Wears No Clothes

14 07 2007

John Mackey

By Jill Ettinger

I remember attempting cleverness in my youth, particularly in school, definitely when boys were in the equation. My friends and I would make up all kinds of plots to speak to them, to find out who they liked. It was so Knots Landing of us; we took sleuthing seriously, and in many cases it outweighed the importance of studying. Between passing notes and writing them, there was barely any time to get to the work on the desk in front of me; we do have to prioritize, after all. I think now how the halls of my middle school are no longer filled with the “hand-off” of super-secret specially folded notes full with juicy gossip. This is no longer the case. This lucky generation is texting and IM’ing from their handhelds; no evidence, no crime. I am a slight bit jealous (ok, a lot bit) of the cell phone eliminating the humiliation of teachers intercepting these most important documents, laughing over them in the teachers lounge. Oh the horror.

But the instant communication we’re now privy too brings us back to our youth. We can successfully manage several discussions at once, using technology to assist. Like passing test answers under the desk. Often on important business calls, Yahoo IM comes in handy, a tool to strategize, change game plans with allies underneath the call that may have suddenly taken a strange turn. And who would even consider dating any more with out the pre-date flirt text? I mean do you really even know anyone until you’ve texted?

Enter Internet bulletin boards, forums and chat groups. As if we didn’t have enough to keep us busy, we can talk and talk and talk without ever opening our mouths, hopefully without people knowing our real identity (unless we want them to). It’s a strange human behavior, like we’re trying to relive our primal origins in the forest, stealthily stalking through the brush. The truth is, we’re not so stealth. We’re quite clumsy and need the advent of technology to allow us to attempt what should be instinctual. Intelligence has, in so many ways, made us weaker and more vulnerable. But we still respond to our primal urges, whether we have to lug a laptop along with us or not.

It’s important we consider all this before we damn John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market for his recently exposed internet alter-ego. He demonstrated the definition of “uncouth” as he clumsily guised under his wife’s name (slightly mis-spelled backwards) to boost the image of his beloved chain of grocery stores. Maybe I’m alone here, but it makes me like the guy even more. Just picture him, Sunday morning, sipping a cup of organic Allegro coffee, reading the paper, and yet another article questioning the success of the little-turned-enormous Texas based “health food” store. “Honey! I’ll be in the office!” He flips on the computer and begins to champion the merit of what it means to be the leader of a movement so vital to our collective future. Remember, this began in 1999, and a lot has happened since then. If it had not been for his valiant self-cheerleading, would it have been different?

Much of the public ridicule is coming over his Wild Oats comments, as the FTC continues to pursue prevention of the merger. But anyone who has shopped in a Wild Oats, be real, you know those stores are like Mackey (“Rahobed”) says: “OATS has lost their way and no longer has a sense of mission or even a well-thought-out theory of the business. They lack a viable business model that they can replicate. ” And they often lack inventory, proper lighting and staff to boot. It’s not even half the shopping experience of Whole Foods. Stripping Mackey his rightful place as leader of the organic world for his internet antics is like killing the king who dressed as a villager to get out and hear the truth so he can address it.

Mackey is being hung out to dry, some even calling for his resignation as CEO. It’s preposterous to carry on like he’s actually done anyone any harm. Yet this is precisely the type of news the media circus loves to give far too much attention to, the effects often crippling careers. Forget all the lives he’s saved with healthy food choices, all the well-paid employees and their families, or the farmers now receiving fair wages for their crops, the animals who are being treated more humanely or the dozens of charity organizations Whole Foods supports. America was duped and that we simply don’t stand for. Please.

I’ve spent over eight years working closely with and shopping regularly at Whole Foods. (Just last night, I kid you not, I made three separate trips to and purchases at the Bowery store in Manhattan.) There are tons of great people that make that business what it is, but there is also a great leader at the top that continues to do his best to stay engaged in the value of his corporation. That to me defines what honest business is all about. Think for a second what type of responses he would have gotten on those bulletin boards if he had fully disclosed himself?

So Mr. Mackey, the song “Vultures” from John Mayer seems incredibly apropos for you now. Enjoy! (His Live Earth performance of course.)

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2 responses

14 07 2007
Jon H

Mackey’s behavior was certainly terribly unethical; the FTC and others will decide if it was criminal. But you have to be amazed at the brazen ego this guy must have to trumpet his “transparency” days before it is revealed that for seven ears he cowered behind an alias on a chat board for stock investors, talking up his compnay’s stock and trashing a competitor’s stock, that would soon become his target in a hostile takeover. Actually, the media and much of the blogosphere (like your blog) is letting him off remarkably easy. For more, see:
http://jon8332.typepad.com/force_for_good/2007/07/whole-foods-ceo.html

14 07 2007
jill

What critics like yourself seem to overlook about Mackey is that his company is not like any other that is publicly traded. Whole Foods is actually doing remarkable, groundbreaking work in providing real nutrition, outstanding employee benefits and a global awareness on things like fair trade wages and respecting the environment. What else really matters besides making those options more accessible for everyone? Call it cowardice if you choose, but he appears to me to be one of the bravest and humblest CEO’s of the 21st century. His regard and compassion is unrivaled, and with a daunting task of bringing healthy lifestyles to the mainstream, he should be taking every action to make that possible.

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