TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Lisa Napoli: Internet chat rooms are the modern equivalent of locker rooms or corner bars — of course, without the open nakedness or beer — but there’s something about what sitting in front of a computer and an Internet connection can do to your senses. Consider the case of the Whole Foods CEO John Mackey. He ‘fessed up last week that he’s been masquerading online for years. I talked to Fortune magazine’s Allan Sloan about this distinctly digital age problem.
Allan Sloan: I think it’s the fact that you sit there, you say what you have to say, you know with your fingers on the keyboard, there’s no human contact, there’s no human feedback and there’s nothing to stop you from acting like an idiot. Whereas if you and I sat around and were talking to each other and I said something snotty or sexist, you’d smack me in the face.
Napoli: You can imagine though if you were a CEO, you know it’s like reading your own reviews, you want to hear what people are saying. It’s a temptation that’s hard to resist.
Sloan: Right. Well sure you’d want to know and sure it might make sense to go there. The problem you run into, if you go on as yourself, which I think you have to do, it becomes endless. If you don’t answer it you somehow become a bad guy. I mean there’s a lot to be said for wanting to sample the customers, and I suspect Mackey is the kind of guy who would walk around his stores hoping nobody would know who he was to see what the reaction is.
Napoli: But now, Allan, lots has been written since the story broke about other CEOs who go online and, for instance, Bill Marriott apparently doesn’t even use a computer but he blogs by recording his thoughts into a digital recorder and then a Marriott employee posts it for him.
Sloan: Marriott is not pretending to be anyone other than himself. You know he doesn’t call himself “Happy Traveler At Marriott.” If Mackey had just been himself, he would’ve had a whole other set of problems. Some lawyer at Whole Foods or Whole Foods’ outside law firm would have been on the phone saying ‘What are you doing? You can’t do this!’ But he was doing it under a pseudonym and that’s where he has a problem, and that’s why this is an embarrassment.
Napoli: And I think the real lesson here is that if you want to be part of the conversation these days, it involves being digital and this is further proof of that.
Sloan: The Internet is not a disciplined medium, but you need to be disciplined if you’re a big hitter and you’re a fiduciary like Mackey. You just sort of need to remember that the world is bigger than your keyboard and your monitor.
Napoli: That’s Allan Sloan of Fortune. I’m Lisa Napoli. Enjoy your day.
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