Look, I'm not saying that John Mackey should have gone onto the Yahoo! message board for Whole Foods (Nasdaq: WFMI ) and posted anonymous messages extolling his company while trashing Wild Oats (Nasdaq: OATS ) . It was dumb, an activity with almost no hope for upside.
But I understand it. I understand why John Mackey would see the nonsense that some random keyboard heroes wrote about him and his company and find the impulse to shoot back irresistible.
I'll let you in on a secret. Anyone who thinks he can get away with charging $4 for yogurt pretzels has an ego. Anyone who screams at a competitor that he's going to destroy him is living a wee bit on the edge. You think John Mackey has to take having anonymous losers lie about him on a message board? Suuuuuuure, he could have done like Pre-Paid Legal and tried to sue 'em. But isn't it a little more awesome that he went online and just tried to humiliate them? Those claiming that he had nothing to gain by playing "rahodeb" fail to consider gains non-financial in nature.
Calling someone out when you have 100 times more information is fun. Mackey had to feel like a lion walking into a pack of lemurs. "Sure, you lemurs are pretty tough -- you know, for lemurs. Take me to your leader so I can chew on his head."
The trouble is that online, no one knows you aren't a lemur, and some aren't wise to the fact that their heads are being chewed on. That's where Mackey really screwed up. He forgot that you can only win arguments if the person on the other side recognizes that he's losing. Here's what you learn from posting on many stock message boards: Posters willing to make wild statements on no evidence aren't going to be swayed by, uh, evidence. Our rahodeb should have figured that out and moved on. Instead, (s)he's pretending to like John Mackey's haircut.
Next thing he knows, it's 2006, and he's sitting in a boardroom staring across the table at corporate counsel Roberta Lang and saying "Robbie ... I don't know what happened."
It's the ego. That's what people are missing. Take a look at some of these discussion boards. They bring about the worst tendencies in people who just really, really want to matter to someone. And here's the King of the World, John Mackey, and frankly he's kinda sick of reading their crap.
OK, OK, so he may have given the Federal Trade Commission some fuel to block Whole Foods' proposed merger with Wild Oats. I reckon they're afraid that the market for Kashi might be too concentrated in one company. That may have been bad. They're still doofuses for not recognizing that companies like Costco (Nasdaq: COST ) , Wegmans, and even Safeway (NYSE: SFY ) can (and do) easily compete in organic foods. Think Whole Foods can charge $8 per pound for flaxseed? That's crazy.
Because seriously, that stuff's kinda nasty.
But here's what's really, really stupid. I'm surprised that no one at the FTC or the Securities and Exchange Commission (which is investigating Mackey's every word on the board) has picked up on it: rahodeb admitted more than a year ago that he was Mackey, and the rest of the world is only finding out now. The SEC's investigation is centered on Mackey's Wild Oats statements, as if they might have influenced the company's share price.
But is there anything more salubrious than a public figure getting outed publicly? Whole Foods is a high-profile company, with a highly trafficked Yahoo! board. But if someone actually says something smart in a sea of idiocy, does it matter? The fact that it took so long for rahodeb's identity to come out ought to point to the bleedingly obvious fact that no one cares what takes place on these message boards. The grand battles between the longs and the shorts on the Novastar (NYSE: NFI ) board? The 603 reasons you should buy Celgene (Nasdaq: CELG ) ? The screamfests on the Rambus (Nasdaq: RMBS ) board about the company's price-to-patent ratio (which does seem pretty low)? Tempests in a teapot. Complete, utter wastes of time.
The greatest message-board story in a decade eludes people for 13 months, hidden in plain view ... rahodeb admits to being John Mackey ... somewhere in the distance, a dog barks. Yes, "imagretinvester_623," the world cares whether you think the market-makers are manipulating the tape.
Except that they don't. Unless you turn out to be Steve Jobs, then they might care -- in 2009, when they figure out who you are.
John Mackey did a dumb thing, because he drew attention to himself in an unnecessary way. I guarantee in the time I wrote this that some public company CEO somewhere abused his shareholders in a far worse manner and will never have to answer for it.
Guaranteed. And I write pretty fast.
Bill Mann isn't bothered by the hypocrisy. Neither are any of the 23 anonymous names he posts under. Except for one, and he's sorta crazy. Bill holds shares of Costco. Whole Foods and Costco are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool's disclosure policy has no anagrams.