I've been a big fan of corporate blogging, but never like John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods who has been under the gun these past few weeks, ever since he announced the deal to acquire Wild Oats. Here's a short synopsis of his troubles.
First he led the 'attempted' consolidation in the natural foods segment of the trillion dollar grocery industry by acquiring his #1 competitor, Wild Oats. Good.
Secondly, before he could even revel in that deal, the Federal Trade Commission issued an objection. [Now having participated in a deal requiring lots more analysis (see About Deal Scores ), I understand completely that the FTC relies quite heavily on the acquiring parties' own rhetoric and Board presentation materials to build their case. The Hart, Scott Rodino Act saves a ton of $ in the M&A cost column for both the government and the filing parties, but you're also giving the government your gun (figuratively please), and in this case John made it really, really clear that he will be consolidating the category – regardless if the local WalMart carries the same products or not. There are precedents, particularly the Staples-Office Max deal of 1996. In both cases, the parties' very own definition of the market segments showed their category consolidating significantly as a result of the transaction. 3 competitors merge into two. Bad.
Once his comments were reviewed in the Wall Street Journal, it became clear to me that John's grand vision for the market category was likely to falter. Bad. Oh, and he kept ranting about the deal after the government's injunction.
Thirdly, it came out that he had blogged on Yahoo! Finance Chat lines under a pseudonym based on the reverse spelling of this wife's first name, Deborah. Anonymous postings by people who should know better are sad. Shame. Bad.
Fourthly, the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating John's anonymous comments on Yahoo! to see if there was anything illegal. Who knows what they'll find? Backdating options maybe?
Now, John has apologized. Here's the Ars Technica view.
The Brockmann view:
I do think that John can ride this out. Couple of things need to happen first. John needs to go away and calm down. John, personally needs a crisis PR agency to help him through this; maybe a few months of silence followed by exclusive interviews – MSNBC or WSJ – Larry King? He's a celebrity now, and unfortunately has the potential to implode or be a liability to the company he founded and fought so hard to grow.
The company has made plans to sell off 35 or so overlapping stores. Good. That'll cool the government's pains. John needs to let a trusted leader handle the processes of the deal approvals. Hang in there – don't give up.