Whole Foods’ CEO and his stock message board obsession

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This, just posted on W$J.com, is a great story:

In January 2005, someone using the name “Rahodeb” went online to a Yahoo stock-market forum and posted this opinion: No company would want to buy Wild Oats Markets Inc., a natural-foods grocer, at its price then of about $8 a share.

“Would Whole Foods buy OATS?” Rahodeb asked, using Wild Oats’ stock symbol. “Almost surely not at current prices. What would they gain? OATS locations are too small.” Rahodeb speculated that Wild Oats eventually would be sold after sliding into bankruptcy or when its stock price dipped below $5. A month later, Rahodeb wrote that Wild Oats’ management “clearly doesn’t know what it is doing … OATS has no value and no future.”

The comments were typical of the banter on Internet message boards for stocks — but the identity of the writer was anything but. Rahodeb was the online pseudonym for John Mackey, co-founder and chief executive of Whole Foods Market Inc. Earlier this year, his company agreed to buy Wild Oats for $565 million [$18.50 a share].

For about eight years until last August, Mr. Mackey posted voluminous messages on Yahoo’s stock forums as Rahodeb, the company confirms. The moniker is an anagram for Deborah, which happens to be the name of Mr. Mackey’s wife. Rahodeb routinely cheered Whole Foods’ financial results, trumpeted his personal gains on the stock, and bashed Wild Oats. Rahodeb even defended Mr. Mackey’s haircut when another user poked fun at a photograph in Whole Foods’ annual report. “I like Mackey’s haircut,” Rahodeb said. “I think he looks cute!”

Mr. Mackey’s online alter ego came to light in a document made public late Tuesday by the Federal Trade Commission in its lawsuit seeking to block the Whole Foods-Wild Oats deal…

The man’s enthusiasm is actually almost endearing. But somehow I think this is going to cause him some big-time trouble.

Update: Herb Greenberg compares Mackey to short-seller-hatin’ Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne here. I had thought of Byrne too. There’s a fine line between the obsessive belief in yourself and your company that makes you a great success and the obsessive belief in yourself and your company that makes you a self-destructive nut. Mackey, while he has certainly ticked off a lot of people over the years, has mostly stayed on the good side of that line. Not sure he’s still there, though.

Update 2: Felix Salmon (I’m working my way through Google Reader here) says sockpuppet Mackey should resign.

Update 3: In the comments, Andy from Maine writes that Mackey “shouldn’t be forced to resign. His multi millon dollar severance package will kick in. Keep him on the payroll at his current salary.” For the record, I just looked through Whole Foods’ 2007 proxy, and the severance package Mackey would get amounts to about $320,000 cash plus accelerated vesting of some stock options that, if it had happened last year, would have been worth an estimated $722,000. So not “multi million.” His salary this year is $1, although I guess he could still get a bonus (last year’s bonus was $320,000). This is not a greedy, self-serving CEO. This is an overenthusiastic CEO.