What a week it's been. Around this time last week, the shocking news hit that Whole Foods Market's
After all, I've often expressed my views on the company's merits, ahead-of-the-curve mission, and promising growth. In the past, I've pointed to CEO John Mackey as a Most Foolish CEO and described the company as an example of an "Un-Enron."
The media is infamous for blowing stories out of proportion, but people's reactions to the news tells me that Mackey's behavior is certainly a hot debate. And while the media chose to focus heavily on this particular event, I believe this story should create a new wave of coverage on CEO's behavior on the Internet. I'm sure Mackey isn't the only CEO out there operating under a clever anonymous handle, and I can't help wondering how many are out there, wondering whether their pseudo-identity was the greatest idea ever or whether their secret life will ever be discovered.
With or without you
Having discussed the issue with friends, family, and other investors, and having spent some time on our Motley Fool Stock Advisor discussion board dedicated to Whole Foods Market, I found that while many people are shocked and outraged, there's also a sizeable number of people who don't think Mackey did anything particularly unethical (or that wrong, maybe just silly or bizarre). And there are those who believe the current storm is blown out of proportion.
A common argument is that the only way Mackey could responsibly participate in such discussions was to be anonymous, and that was his major protection if he felt some notion to let his hair down and duke it out in the wilds of the Internet.
Another interesting discussion has been whether Mackey should stay or go. We've got folks coming down on both sides there, too.
I'm in the camp that believes that a Whole Foods without John Mackey could face risk without his strategy and philosophy for his consciously capitalistic company, even with this faux pas. Of course, again, there are just as many who say, let him stay after this untrustworthy/dishonest/manipulative/self-serving behavior (plug in your own descriptor; people have used them all), and you'll get what you deserve.
However, I've also seen passionate opinions expressed that maybe the sky isn't falling -- that Whole Foods can't be stopped now no matter what. After all, several Fools have pointed out, Wal-Mart
Tears and fears
One of David Gardner's points in his video take on last week's news was that Mackey should apologize, and I agree. Yesterday, Mackey did so, but it's not delivered with his characteristic eloquence. Some people might say that he's not really sorry, just knows he should be, but there's a lot in the balance right now. The company has removed his blog with a note that he will be back. (I'm bummed we can't even look at the archives, which I always considered good reading.) Additionally, the Whole Foods' Board of Directors is launching an internal investigation, and the SEC's digging in, too.
And of course, any discussion of the new transparency gripping corporate America can bring up JetBlue's
I don't condone Mackey's anonymous postings, but I still have respect for the other transparent moves he made, like his blog, where he personally talked to people -- ordinary people, like you and me -- where he was passionate about his company and the industry and addressed detractors, as well as fans. I wish that had been the extent of his online travels, though. I don't think he's "crooked," as some imply. Rather, I suspect he's a human being who succumbed to a pretty strong temptation -- posters on our board have also pointed out that passion for his company got him into this mess to begin with -- but of course, we're all in the realm of conjecture when we ask ourselves why. That's also difficult to resist -- I've seen a lot of that going around, too. We're all only human, after all.
Get it together
After this rough-and-tumble week, though, I have to say that the thoughtful conversations I've seen taking place on the Motley Fool Stock Advisor Whole Foods discussion board really underline the power of community and discussion. It's tempting to fly off the handle in a situation like this -- I admit I got caught up in the downward spiral of emotional questioning myself -- even though emotion and short-term panic are terrible for investors. And community is where one person may say: Everybody take a deep breath, count to 10, and talk this out. But then again, nobody will blame anyone for running for the exits, either.
I'm holding on, and I'm glad to watch the debate. Given the divergent opinions on what is ethical behavior on the Internet for corporate leaders (and what they should or shouldn't do with their time under an alias or their own name), I'd say this is a conversation investors need to have. And we can thank John Mackey for that.