Analyst Corner

Not seeing the Whole picture

Categories: Uncategorized

On Wednesday, it was revealed that John P. Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, had used the pseudonym Rahodeb to post messages on Yahoo message boards. In these postings Mr. Mackey both praised Whole Foods and questioned the performance, value, and quality of rival Wild Oats. It has been widely reported that among Mr. Mackey’s comments, he allegedly made statements scoffing at the perceived value of Wild Oats. This is interesting since Whole Foods is trying to purchase the company that he is bashing and certainly would benefit from a lower price per share of the company.

Even in today’s post Enron, post MCI-Worldcom world, it is not unheard of for a CEO to engage in behavior that most would consider unethical, if not illegal. Many pundits have suggested that Mackey’s behavior, while not illegal (since he did not identify himself as an officer of the company making these statements), the behavior is a bit shady at a minimum. And indeed this morning The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the SEC is beginning a formal investigation into Mr. Mackey’s behavior.

This is an example of a broader issue that all companies, most specifically public companies, have in today’s “all everywhere internet access” culture. How can companies protect themselves from well meaning or worse yet, mischievous employees wishing to post comments on the internet?

Obviously, organizations can limit employee access at work, but when employees go home, full protection is impossible. When it comes to deploying best practices, take grandma’s advice: use common sense. Provide opportunities for employees to offer feedback to company executives honestly while preventing access to popular gossip sites (MySpace, Facebook, Yahoo, etc.). Have a very clear policy and procedures section of the employee manual that specifically calls out these actions as not being tolerated by your company…and regularly remind employees of the policy. These safeguards will not eliminate the potential for this type of thing happening in the future but should help limit exposure, which is really the most a company can hope for in today’s world. After all, astoundingly foolish behavior can occur at any level.