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The Wall Street Journal has am anecdote-laden front-page profile of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey – in which he did not cooperate – that is tied to the revelation that for eight years he wrote blogs under an alias that hyped his own company and criticized his competitors, especially Wild Oats. This practice has come under scrutiny – both by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and by Whole Foods’ own board – because Mackey now is trying to buy Wild Oats, a move that is opposed by the Federal Trade commission (FTC).

The story notes that Mackey always has been a maverick with a tendency to be confrontational and that “there was little distinction between his professional and personal sides. That's why few people close to him were surprised that he tooted his own horn and blasted his critics online. Their only surprise was that he did it anonymously.”

Other excerpts from the story:

• “Mr. Mackey fit in nicely among the health-food industry's scrappy entrepreneurs. He was a six-time college dropout, curly haired and casually dressed. He spoke passionately about food (the natural kind), politics (the libertarian kind) and capitalism (the aggressive kind). Colleagues who knew him as a young man say he was -- and remains today, at 53 -- a man of opposing characteristics: forthright and yet distant, compassionate and yet cutthroat, idealistic and yet capable of compromise.”

• “The company still reflects its founder's business-casual character. Mr. Mackey works from the early morning, when he reads about management or the environment from a tall stack of books at home, to well into the night, when he often sends emails to other executives. He often wears sandals and khaki pants or shorts to the office. He sticks to a vegan diet.”
KC's View:
I’m not sure that anyone is arguing that Mackey isn’t visionary, innovative, competitive, combative and passionate. The only question is whether he crossed the legal line that CEOs of public companies aren’t supposed to cross.

One quick observation. It indeed would be terrible for Whole Foods if it lost its founder because of this mini-scandal. But if Whole Foods is only as good as its founder, if it doesn’t have the kind of leaders spread throughout the company who can grow the company as well as Mackey, then in the end it could be said that Mackey didn’t do his job.

Maybe that’s the real question that has to be asked at Whole Foods.