When Whole Foods' CEO John Mackey was caught using the screen name Rahodeb to post anonymous comments about his company and its competitors, the executive took a break from Whole Foods' The CEO's Blog. Now that the Securities and Exchange Commission and Whole Foods completed their investigation and concluded that no action is necessary, Mackey is back, with an explanation for his behavior.
"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," Mackey wrote in his May 21 post.
For those in the PR industry working toward more open communications, with an eye on authentic campaigns and corporate responsibility, that statement should both concern and cause excitement for an opportunity to educate. Unless the definition of "applicable" has changed, transparency is more than a virtue, online or not, especially from a CEO.
He also wrote that the "true identity in the outside world is irrelevant for purposes of participation in these communities." That's an open cry to PR pros to step up your role in trying to promote transparency at client companies.
Mackey argues that 10 years ago, when he started posting anonymously, Whole Foods was much smaller, and as CEO, he was not yet a public figure, nor did he want to be. Like it or not, as CEO, he had a responsibility to be honest in all of his dealings, especially when it comes to the company. Moreover, Mackey missed the opportunity to use his position and knowledge to bring greater value to the company on online forums. Instead, he brought a wave of controversy and two investigations into Whole Foods.
His latest blog promises he will keep future posts to topics other than his time as Rahodeb. Here's to keeping it real.