Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, who made an unwelcome splash last year when it was discovered that he had been posting as anonymous commenter “rahodeb” on the Yahoo! bulletin boards for 10 years, is back in the blogosphere after taking a hiatus for the SEC and his own board of directors to probe his online postings. [He was cleared of any wrongdoing by those two entities.]
Humbled and ready to learn from his past transgressions? Not completely. Defiant and seemingly incredulous to the sins he committed against transparency and online communications is more the reality.
“I don’t wish to apologize for being highly competitive because much of my drive and creativity come from this competitiveness,” he writes in a 2,000-word opus on his blog in which he attempts to explain his actions as both a chivalrous defense of his company from detractors and stock shorters, and a forum to vet ideas, like he did growing up at the dinner table.
Mackey says the use of a screen name is a “normal custom” and “great equalizer” in online communities. “The true identity in the outside world is irrelevant for purposes of participation in these communities,” he writes before offering this observation, which PR people might find interesting: “I do not think that the virtue of transparency is particularly applicable or relevant when it comes to online communities whose custom is to participate through screen names.”
As GCI’s Paul Walker put it: “The key lesson that can be learned here is this: Posting 'anonymously' about your company online — no matter who you are — is not a good idea.”
Mackey did say that he’s learned “many things” from his 1,400 or so posts over 10 years. He says he learned that he’s a public figure and that anything he says could end up on the front page of a national newspaper. He also says he wouldn’t post in the Yahoo! forums if he had the chance for a “do over.”
I'm glad that Mackey is back online. He's completely wrong about what he did, but he's also a rare dynamic voice for CEOs communicating in this space, even though I'm sure his return gives his PR staff heartburn.