What do Whole Foods' (WFMI) CEO John Mackey and Overstock (NASDAQ:OSTK) CEO Patrick Byrne have in common?
Both love to post anonymous on investment message boards. The difference is that everybody (or almost everybody) knows that Patrick Byrne uses the alias Hannibal to post in various venues. But in one of the year's most bizarre business stories so far, broken yesterday afternoon on WSJ.com, he has been one-upped by none other than John Mackey, who apparently has been posting for eight years under the alias Rahodeb.
"Truth is stranger than fiction" stories don't get better than this. Posting as someone other than himself, according to the story, Mackey would routinely chat up Whole Foods. But the best part is he spent a considerable amount of time chatting DOWN Wild Oats (OATS) before his company made a bid to buy the rival grocer.
Why a CEO (or any officer, for that matter) would post on an investment message board, either anonymously or otherwise, is beyond me. Never mind the obvious regulation FD concerns: It's just wrong! If a CEO wants to have his own blog on his own company's website that is vetted by the company's legal counsel -- you won't find any argument here.
To post on outside message boards, especially using an alias, not only shows poor judgment but strikes to the heart of a company's culture and makes you wonder what else might not be quite right.
As for the future of Whole Foods, this much is clear: This was Mackey's company. He is known as a micro-manager who has alienated more than a few executives during the company's tremendous growth. While he certainly isn't alone in running the company, he clearly is a CEO who made a difference and set the tone. A bigger question, of course, is why would he do this. My hunch, as I said on CNBC's On the Money: Perhaps, in the end, the same entrepreneurial "break all rules" and "think outside the box" passion and spirit that helped Mackey turn Whole Foods into a spectacular success also did him. It could explain why Byrne posts on message boards. Wouldn't you want to know what other CEOs post on message boards under aliases?
No mater, this story is simply remarkable. The beat goes on...
Updated: A reader was kind enough to point out that that someone using the name Rahodeb, the alias for CEO John Mackey, went after yours truly on the Yahoo message boards back in 2000. "It looks like Greenberg is in bed with the shorts," he started. He apparently didn't like a column, then at TheStreet.com, that questioned how the company was unloading to venture capital investors losses and risks associated with a website that was 80%-owned by Whole Foods. That was just one of a number of times he mentioned me in his posts, including one defending Eastman Kodak. Until now, he certainly had the last laugh, well, sort of, about Whole Foods, whose stock soared. Not so much on Kodak, whose stock sank.