Apology Please

July 19, 2007

Apology Please

Although I am on vacation (technically), I cannot keep myself away from recent CEO events. I have been following the Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey episode with great interest. As you probably heard by now, he was discovered to have been posting on a discussion board using a fake name. For eight years, no less! I went to the web site to see the latest press release. I found this:

AUSTIN, Texas (July 17, 2007). Whole Foods Market today released the following statement from Co-founder, Chairman and CEO, John Mackey: “I sincerely apologize to all Whole Foods Market stakeholders for my error in judgment in anonymously participating on online financial message boards. I am very sorry and I ask our stakeholders to please forgive me.”

The press release is all of 50 words. I don’t recall reading something this short from a corporation.

I firmly believe that Mackey’s behavior was an error in judgment as he said. Transparency is the watchword for CEOs and public companies. What was he thinking? I know that he is described as quirky but at some point in those eight years, he must have wondered whether his “fun” postings crossed the line. My sense is that a new CEO will be announced in due time. Its just too close for comfort.

I believe that this is another example of CEO-itis. Mackey lost track of how his behavior impacts the reputation of Whole Foods. Like other CEOs, he thought he was invincible. Even as a founder, he must recognize that each employee’s conduct reflects the ethical standards and moral underpinnings of the company. My sense is that if another officer of the company had been posting anonymously, they would have been shown the door. Reputation of the CEO and other senior officers matters and need to be taken ever so seriously.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of reputations.

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 23:42h, 22 July Reply

    What I’m interested in learning about is who would you help? Would it be more reasonable to help John Mackey salvage his reputation and career, or do you help Whole Foods first? Also, would it be reasonable from Whole Foods’s perspective to want to sack Mackey?

    In that case, aren’t the reputation strategies of two entities at odds? So many questions…

    -Michael Allison

  • LGR
    Posted at 00:41h, 23 July Reply

    That’s a great question. I would help Whole Foods first. The reputation of Whole Foods is more important because the company is more than its CEO and founder. His undeniable imprint on the company culture has made Whole Foods an outstanding company. It will go on. I would not be surprised if Mackey is asked to announce a retirement date or make mention that they are looking into a succession plan. He will do fine and seems to have the personality to rebound successfully if he leaves. His apology was a good first step.

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