December 29, 2009

John Mackey helped out of Whole Foods Chair.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, “voluntarily” resigns as Chairman of Board.

A few months back the CEO/Chairman of Whole Foods, John Mackey, who I’ve had the pleasure of talking with several times, penned an anti-Obama Health Care Reform editorial in the Wall Street Journal. (I met with him at his Boulder home for an hour once, and he outlined an optimistic view of the future, and agreed to an interview…right before he got busted for moonlighting on the web, dissing Wild Oats while moving to buy it. Asked to shut up by his board, the interview was rainchecked. Three years later, we’re still waiting.)

Immediately following the anti-Obama healthcare reform Wall Street Journal editorial I was one of the few knee-jerk liberals to jump to Mr. Mackey’s defense—I felt he had a right to call the Republican playbook on “ObamaCare” (you know, Democracy, free exchange of ideas.

While I became the most prominent (probably because I was one of very few) national voice defending Whole Foods against a progressive calls for a boycott (my defense of Whole Foods on elephantjournal.com made the home page of the Huffington Post for close to a week, and was quoted in the New York Times and Atlantic, as well as hundreds of smaller blogs)…

…and while Mackey’s editorial was edited in a partisan manner by the conservative Wall Street Journalers (now controlled by Darth Murdoch)…

…and while Mackey’s editorial actually brought in a whole new demographic (now called Whole Foods Republicans), his editorial was unfortunate.

Coming from a leader of mindful business (Mackey calls his brand of biz “Conscious Capitalism“), his voice was an outsized one, and had the effect of both bruising and engaging the health care cause.

Here’s my read on his being pushed out of the Chair, which he’s held since 1978: love or hate him, Mackey is the Steve Jobs of Whole Foods: integrity, brilliant, arrogant, and usually right on. His power will be lessened somewhat—he’s still CEO but his control of WFM will be more like steering a big boat, instead of a little speedy Tesla—even one step removed from absolute power, a la Putin, Mackey will hopefully continue to shape what is one of the great greener-than-most-by-far business success stories of the last century.

Excerpt on the Chairmanship via ABC:

At Whole Foods’ annual shareholders meeting in March, CtW Investment Group, a shareholder activist group that works with union pension funds, unsuccessfully proposed that the CEO and chairman roles be separated. The grocer said it has been receiving these proposals for three years.

But in August, CtW raised the stakes by calling for the CEO’s removal. The activist group said an editorial by Mackey opposing President Obama’s health care plan damaged the company’s reputation, especially among its left-leaning customers.

The group said Mackey “attempted to capitalize on the brand reputation of Whole Foods to champion his personal political views but has instead deeply offended a key segment of Whole Foods consumer base.”

CtW said Mackey has become a “liability” because of his “indiscretion.”

The shareholder activist has wanted Mackey to relinquish his chairman title because it believes an independent chairman could improve the company’s stock price performance. CtW noted the stock had fallen 30 percent over the past five years ending Sept. 30, 2008 compared with a 14 percent gain in the S&P 500 Index.

For the whole story, click here.

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