Someone is on the ball at HQ. Not only is THE WALL STREET JOURNAL’s David Kesmodel reporting that John Mackey has made a formal apology, Whole Foods has announced an internal investigation into RahodebGate. I hope it goes farther than ethics training for the executive team.
Last night, a local radio talk show was addressing the question of whether to include anti-racism courses in elementary school curricula. This is the same issue as to whether ethics courses should be included in MBA programs. Many experts believe that these are necessary steps.
It would be great if we could still grow up learning, from every corner of our culture and most especially in the home, that some things are right and some are wrong. What we have instead is some sort of unconscious acculturation around lower standards, as long as money’s being made or foes are defeated.
Something is making it OK for us to call each other names. And something is making it OK for executives to cross the line. It’s not a conspiracy, which means it might actually be organic — which makes it scarier. Something is making coarseness not only OK but acceptable.
I’ve heard Ivy League MBAs argue that the CEO’s only job is to increase shareholder value — and if he or she does that, the CEO should be practically untouchable. While these universities probably are not going out of their way to promote ruthlessness, a kind of combustion seems to occur in their halls that cultivates this side of human nature. Maybe it’s the fact that the graduates go on to join the Power Elite — learning to play by the established rules in order to get some of that power, then endowing their academic institutions with the resulting lucre.
This is why incest is illegal in most states. The bloodlines are getting pretty thin in business these days. For many, it is all about preserving their hegemony at any cost. Fewer and fewer members of the inner circle are willing to ask questions. Since humans like their tribes, the Power Elite is no different — even when, like Mr Mackey, they protest too much that they live outside the system.
As long as this kind of thinking dominates how we define value, episodes like Mackey’s will continue to emerge from the shadows of American business competition. At this point, I’ve come to believe that the only way to stop it is to punish it. And to work for the day that more companies find ways to grow, compete and profit without resorting to or enabling ruthless, narcissistic, elitist behavior.
I’m glad Mr Mackey apologized. And I hope that the internal investigation helps to identify the root causes of his behavior and whether they’ve been fertilized by the rest of the company and its board.
I also hope that every executive team in the country pays attention. We don’t need another episode to demonstrate the importance of speaking truth to power and encouraging the diversity of thinking, as well as of executive bloodlines, that fosters fairness in the way American business is done. I know from personal experience that this type of healthy, collaborative challenge helps us to adjust our thinking and correct our mistakes before anyone else has to suffer.