John Mackay, internet masquerade and digital illiteracy

Whole_foods_2 John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc., has been going on line…to tout his own stock…under an assumed name…for 8 years.   Naturally, the SEC is investigating and one fears for what is left of Mr. Mackey’s credibility.

It was the "8 years" that brought me up short.  This means Mr. Mackey has been conversant with the internet for some time, much longer than most CEOs. 
And this means that Mr. Mackey had an extended opportunity to grasp the transparency of the internet…and never did.  Most of us get the notion that everything is eventually public online.  The digital world gives lots of shapeshifting opportunities (think Second Life, with its fake, borrowed, and stolen identities) but, finally, it’s almost entirely see-through.  There is no place to hide.  Eventually the truth will out. 

The ethics of Mr. Mackey’s digital masquerade are, well, troubling.  (Isn’t that we always call ethical issues: "troubling"?)  But there is a second ground on which to doubt Mr. Mackey’s "fitness for office."  Ethics aside, is this man technically qualified to be a CEO? 

Here’s the question I would be asking if I were on Wall Street: if this guy managed to participate on the internet, without ever grasping its fundamentals, what else does he not know about contemporary culture? 

It would be one thing if Mr. Mackey’s company made case hardened steel or CD containers.  Not grasping contemporary culture would be unsurprising and more or less forgivable.  But Mr. Mackey runs a company that runs a tide.  His company has come to prominence precisely because contemporary culture changed fundamentally the way it thinks about food, nutrition, cooking, health, wellness, and eating.

This isn’t a single trend.  It’s a wave of many waves.  If one were a Whole Foods investor (and very modestly, I am) one would like to think that somewhere at headquarters there was a big board in which all of these little waves were being tracked.  It would be nice to think that command central had a clue. 

Yesterday, Mr. Mackey said he would stop blogging.  Great, so when does he start paying attention?


Kesmodel, David.  2007.  Whole Foods Sets Probe as CEO Apologizes.  The Wall Street Journal.  July 18, 2007.

McCracken, Grant.  2007.  The Artisanal Trend.  This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.  here

2 thoughts on “John Mackay, internet masquerade and digital illiteracy

  1. Jon Harmon

    Mackey’s behavior was highly unethical, perhaps criminal. He has for years been touting himself (on his own blog) as the paragon of transparency, and then it was revealed that for seven-plus years he was touting himself and his company, and ripping a competitor, under an alias. Yes, he should be fired. The guy’s hubris is so great it took him a week of heat to force him to apologize. Actually it took several days for the media and the blogosphere to really turn on him. Why? — see:

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