Should Whole Foods CEO Have Taken on ObamaCare?

Last Updated Aug 24, 2009 11:53 AM EDT

Last week, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey wrote a gutsy and possibly ill-conceived op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal. In The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare, Mackey named "Eight things we can do to improve health care without adding to the deficit." Sounds great, right? Well, yes and no.

By taking on ObamaCare and pushing for less government, Mackey may have risked harming his company's business by angering its traditionally left-leaning customer base. The blogosphere is having a field day amidst calls for boycotting Whole Foods:

In Is John Mackey Clueless About Whole Foods' Customer Base?, BNET Food blogger Katherine Glover wrote:
Seriously, what was Mackey thinking? Does he not know people who shop at Whole Foods? The moment I saw his health care op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, I knew there would be trouble. And sure enough, the piece angered so many customers that the Whole Foods website now has an entire "Boycott Whole Foods" section --"
And CNN chimed in with this:
Whole Foods' CEO John Mackey is known for his tendency to shoot from the hip. This time, Mackey may have shot himself -- and his company's brand -- in the foot by getting too personal on the very public issue of health care reform which has sparked calls to boycott the grocer.
While a Huffington Post blogger took the opposing view:
Of course people are free to shop for groceries wherever they want. Why can't some people understand that some of us believe that we should be just as free to shop for education, health care, and insurance as we are for food?
But the question remains: As CEO of Whole Foods, should Mackey have done what he did? Yes, thousands have threatened to boycott the store, but the company says it hasn't seen a drop-off in sales and Wall Street hasn't really reacted one way or the other ... yet.

What do I think? Well, in the past I've been critical of Mackey's creepy "Yahoo Finance message board pseudonym" thing and the Wild Oats acquisition, but lately, the stock has bounced back from multiyear lows and operating results have begun to stabalize.

About the op-ed, I'm of two minds. I'm proud that one of our nation's CEOs was willing to stick his neck out like that. And I think he showed remarkable leadership by sharing his innovative ideas on health care and how they've worked at Whole Foods.

But as chief executive of a public company, Mackey's fiduciary duty is to his shareholders. And they may develop an appetite for his head, organic or not, if the stock reverses its upward trajectory as a result of his actions. Only time will tell.

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