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When CEOs blog

This is interesting.

The rest of the world got a glimpse into the personality of John Mackey, Whole Foods Market Inc.’s chief executive, last week and learned what Austin has known for a long time: He is anything but subtle.

In a blog posting on the Whole Foods Web site, the full force of Mackey’s personality was laid bare as he attacked the Federal Trade Commission for trying to stop his company from buying rival Wild Oats Markets Inc.

For openers, Mackey accused the FTC of acting in “a biased, adversarial and arrogant manner” and of using “bullying” and “unethical” tactics.

Mackey, an outspoken, competitive Libertarian who despises government interference with business, is in the middle of a court battle with the FTC over the biggest purchase in his company’s history.

At a July 31 federal court hearing, a judge will decide whether to grant a preliminary injunction to stall the merger while the lawsuit goes forward.


[M]any antitrust experts, Whole Foods shareholders and analysts are wondering whether Mackey has gone too far, possibly damaging his company’s chance to buy Wild Oats.

His 14,000-word blog included a letter he sent to the Whole Foods board of directors outlining reasons to buy Wild Oats, including a comment that it would “forever” eliminate the threat of a rival supermarket chain buying Wild Oats to compete against Whole Foods, and attacks against the FTC, calling it “arrogant.”


“I’ve been writing about business for over 20 years, and something like this is pretty unprecedented in my experience,” said Sam Fromartz, the author of “Organic Inc.” “Corporations generally don’t sock it to the government.”

Erik Kulick, a Pittsburgh-based attorney and self-described Whole Foods fan who has owned stock for five years, said he thought Mackey never should have been allowed to publicly post his comments.

Mackey “seems to be a good businessperson, but I think he went off the rail a little bit regarding this FTC hearing,” Kulick said. “The repercussions are potentially serious.”

Darren Bush, a University of Houston law school professor and antitrust expert, said the comments might not hurt Whole Foods’ case because recent history has shown it is rare for a federal judge to challenge a proposed merger.

But it definitely won’t help, he said.

If Mackey’s comments conflict with statements he provides during depositions in the lawsuit, that will be damaging, Bush said. The FTC will pore over the blog with a “fine-tooth comb,” he said.

“One does not want more ammunition pointed at you,” Bush said. “Why don’t you just hand them a gun and say, ‘Take a few shots at me’?”


Mackey has promised more blogs in the coming weeks.

“His attorneys are drinking a lot of Maalox, or the natural foods equivalent,” Fromartz joked. “Lawyers hate this. They just want to play by the game, by the rules, and he is not playing by the rules.”

As we know, listening to one’s attorney is frequently good advice. The blog post in question is here. We’ll see if this turns out to be wise or stupid.

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