"Like Whole Foods itself, Mr. Mackey, a 53-year-old vegan, is somewhat unconventional."
- The Wall Street Journal
Turns out John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, is like a lot of Internet trolls, posting for years on message boards under a pseudonym. Writing as Rahodeb (an anagram of his wife's name, Deborah) on Yahoo, he dissed Wild Oats, the company he's now trying to buy, and praised Whole Foods and even his own haircut.
His posting penchant was revealed in a document (pdf) unsealed by the Federal Trade Commission Tuesday night and reported in the Wall Street Journal ($), which googled his handle to find out what he wrote. Mackey explains on Whole Food's Web site:
I posted on Yahoo! under a pseudonym because I had fun doing it. Many people post on bulletin boards using pseudonyms.
I never intended any of those postings to be identified with me.
The views articulated by rahodeb sometimes represent what I actually believed and sometimes they didn't. Sometimes I simply played 'devil's advocate' for the sheer fun of arguing. Anyone who knows me realizes that I frequently do this in person, too.
The CEO-as-playful trickster is rather unusual in the annals of corporate America, but not at Whole Foods Market. The rivalry between WFM and Wild Oats was legion in the natural food business and was reflected in the comments Mackey made under the pseudonym. That Mackey thought Wild Oats was mismanaged and performing poorly was not a secret.
What was unusual is that Mackey felt compelled to state this opinion on a stock message board for "fun." CEOs aren't supposed to sound like day traders, but then Mackey has never followed the CEO's play book. He's a classic entrepreneur. He shoots from the hip. He sometimes misfires. So far, he hasn't had any fatal financial blow-ups (the biggest, in my estimation, was the company's failed foray into the Internet but no one remembers that).
As CEO transgressions go, this doesn't really rate with falsifying accounting books, managing quarterly earnings estimates, backdating stock options, lobbying Congress for tax breaks, seeking back-door regulatory relief, discriminating against women or minorities, or even sleeping with interns. It's more in the category of a stupid dog trick. CEOs usually pump up their companies and slam the competition with more circumspect language and Power Point presentations in front of Wall Street analysts.
What these antics exemplify are aspects of Mackey's personality - that he is highly competitive and enjoys sparing with opponents, even if anonymously, and likes to promote the company he co-founded. This isn't very CEOish, but then he didn't learn his game at Harvard Business School. Which is one reason he lands in the media so often. Presumably, his competitive juices will be sated, at least somewhat, by this antitrust battle with the FTC.