Nice: Whole Foods CEO John Mackey

In a year that saw ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) CEO Lee Raymond exposed with his grubby little hands in the cookie jar to the tune of a $400 million golden parachute, not to mention UnitedHealth Group's (NYSE: UNH  ) recently departed CEO, William McGuire, getting caught going back to the cookie jar multiple times in the form of backdated stock options, it kind of restores one's faith in humanity to see a CEO actually put some cookies backin the jar.

And this is precisely what Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFMI  ) CEO John Mackey did when he announced that he was only going to accept only $1 in salary for the upcoming year. For this noble act, I believe Mackey deserves a spot near the top of Santa's Nice list for 2006.

In fact, I suspect that Santa was so impressed with the act that he will still bring Mackey a nice present even if the CEO leaves out soy milk, tofu gumdrops, and organic oatmeal cookies. (As for the other CEOs who busied themselves picking up crumbs of stock so small that not even a mouse would bother, well, let's just hope they are on Santa's other list and get a lump of coal.)

Now, some of you might think that Mackey's act isn't really that noble, because he is already fabulously rich and can afford this type of altruistic behavior. While I don't personally know Mr. Mackey's net worth, and I doubt very much that he frets over meeting his monthly mortgage payments, it is worth noting that he made only $356,000 last year.

Now, to most of us, this is a lot of money, but in the clubby world of CEO compensation it seems downright modest. For comparison's sake, UnitedHealth's McGuire regularly collected $100 million annual paychecks and, in spite of the backdating scandal, he is still trying to negotiate a severance package in the neighborhood of $1 billion.

Or perhaps you think that Mackey took the hit because he has presided over a particularly bad year for Whole Foods, and thus deserved a little tough love. Well, it is true that his company's growth did stumble from 11% in 2005 to 6%-8% this year, but this is still a growth rate that most retailers in the food business would kill for. And remember, it took place in the face of growing competition in the organic market -- including increased pressure from retailing powerhouse Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) -- which makes it an even more impressive number in my book.

But the thing that most likely caught Santa's attention was that Mackey doesn't even think what he is doing is either noble or worthy of public attention. When asked why he did it in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Mackey was quick to point out that he was not advocating that other CEOs follow his lead; he simply responded by saying that "I've always followed my heart, and this is what my heart is telling me is the appropriate thing to do right now."

Wow.

I won't pile any more laurels on Mackey, because I suspect he is a genuinely humble man and doesn't appreciate this kind of attention, but his actions have likely prompted a fair amount of singing "Wha who doray" down in Whole-ville.

With this in mind, it is worth considering how much more goodwill and good cheer could be spread among the workers and shareholders of other companies if only their Grinchlike CEOs could somehow find it within themselves to get their hearts to grow three times in size.

For more about Whole Foods, check out:

There's a whole world of naughty and nice out there! Take a lookat the rest of the bunch.

Whole Foods and UnitedHealth areMotley Fool Stock Advisorselections. To find out what other great companies the Gardner brothers have recommended to subscribers, you can take a free 30-day trial. UnitedHealth and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations.

Fool contributor Jack Uldrich's favorite holiday special isn't The Grinch who Stole Christmas, it's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He doesn't own stock in any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool's disclosure policy happens to like soy milk, thank you very much.


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