Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Guest Retail Memo: Boston Globe: Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey Tells the 'Whole Story'

Natural~Specialty Foods Memo (NSFM) Editor's Note: As regular readers are aware, NSFM has covered, reported on, written about and offered much analysis on the Whole Foods Market, Inc. acquisition of Wild Oats Markets since last year, including the still ongoing efforts by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to appeal the decision by the U.S. Federal Court, upheld once already by a federal court of appeals, which gave Whole Foods the green light to go forward in integrating the former Wild Oats operations and retail stores into its corporate culture and retail format, including closing some stores and eventually changing the Wild Oats banner into the Whole Foods Market banner.

As part of the drama surrounding the acquisiton/merger last year, it was discovered by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the regulatory body in the country over such acquisitions, that Whole Foods Market, Inc. CEO John Mackey had for some time been posting negative comments about Wild Oats' senior management and the grocer's overall operations, and favorable ones regarding how it would generally be a good idea for Whole Foods Market, Inc. to acquire and merge with Wild Oats.

Upon discovering that Mackey had been posting these online comments on various financial and business-related message boards under the handle "Rahodeb," the SEC launched an investigation to determine if the posts violated any laws regarding such communications by a CEO during the time in which a company is in the process of attempting to acquire a competitor. Wild Oats shareholders voted to merge with Whole Foods Market, Inc. The deal wasn't a hostile takeover of any sort.

Two weeks ago the SEC announced it had cleared Mackey of any wrong doing after the long investigation. Previous to that, Whole Foods' board of directors had launched its own internal investigation, resulting in the board saying in their opinion they could find nothing illegal in Mackey's online postings on the message boards under the "Rahodeb" handle. Whole Foods' did create a policy restricting future online postings by senior executives though.

Last weekend, a relieved Mackey gave the commencement address to the graduates of Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts. Before giving his commencement address, Mackey sat down with Boston Globe reporter Jenn Abelson for a Q&A interview about the Wild Oats acquisition/merger, his online posting life, the SEC investigation, and his personal life and life heading up Whole Foods, which are closely intertwined.

The interview with Mackey is published in today's edition of the Boston Globe.

This is the first interview Mackey has given since the SEC cleared him of any wrongdoing regarding the online postings. As a result, it's well worth reading the full interview.

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