Well, it seems Wal-Mart isn't the only retailer practicing deception on the Internet. John. P. Mackey, the vegan yogi CEO of Whole Foods Market, has been unmasked by the Federal Trade Commission as Rahodeb, an inveterate Yahoo message board contributor who touted the specialty retailer's stock and had a certain fondness for its leader's grooming. Rahodeb, I mean Mackey, reportedly posted more than 1,000 entries over a seven-year period.
In case you haven't been following the saga, Mackey wants to buy rival Wild Oats Markets, but the FTC wants to deep-six the deal. Mackey wants to deep-six the FTC. He has questioned the agency's legitimacy and accused it of being "hostile and adversarial towards Whole Foods."
Well, Mackey's got that right. The Rahodeb disclosure was contained in a footnote of a document made public by the FTC late Tuesday and reported late yesterday by the Wall Street Journal Online. I can't imagine where the little birdie came from who told the Journal to look for the footnote. Government bureaucrats can be awfully touchy when a CEO they are challenging publicly questions their ethics and integrity.
But let's give Mackey his due. Wal-Mart reportedly pays Edelman some $1 million a year to come up with such ideas as the infamous "Wal-Marting Across America." It appears that Mackay concocted and executed his deception all by his lonesome at no cost. Whole Foods' shareholders gained further value for the $1 a year Mackey takes in salary.
From a crisis communications prospective, I also give Mackey credit for choosing to post a statement on Whole Foods' website, rather than granting an interview to the Journal – he would no doubt have dug himself a deeper hole. But his unnamed spokeswoman did him in instead. "(Mackey's) comments weren't illegal" she told the Journal. Yes, but that begs the question, "does he still beat his wife?"
It seems to me that the person who creates the problem, alone, shouldn't be the one to try to dig himself out, alone. Or at least he shouldn't be allowed to, but that's what appears to have happened in the FAQ on his site.
Mackey's behavior was terribly unethical; the FTC and others will decide if it was criminal. (You also have to be amazed at the brazen ego this guy must have to trumpet his best-in-the-universe commitment to transparency on his own blog until it was revealed that for seven years he cowered behind an alias while talking up his company's stock and trashing a competitor's stock, that would soon become his company's target in a hostile takeover.)
Yet, the media and much of the blogosphere is letting him off remarkably easy. Why? Because the media archetype is for evil big corporate CEOs to do the bad things, not the CEO of a "good company" like Whole Foods. Imagine for a minute that the CEO of Exxon or Wal-Mart had done what Mackey did -- get ready for some serious outrage! For more, see: