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The Austin American Statesman has a piece about the continued growth of Whole Foods - now with more than 350 stores and "record profits" - and how this means that, at the same time, the target on its back seems to grow as well. Everything it does makes news, which means that from a perception point of view, there is less of a margin for error.

“In some ways, it’s a compliment to how people see our company,” said Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb. “I do think we’re a leader in the food industry, and people look to us in that respect. And so when we take a step or a make decision, it gets reported on.”

Whether it is dealing with criticisms over its language policy restricting the use of Spanish by employees (even in New Mexico), or criticisms of its prices in urban markets like Detroit where unemployment is high, or criticisms of the political views of its co-CEO and founder, John Mackey, Whole Foods has found that with size and stature comes media attention that puts its actions and reactions under a microscope.

"The bottom line for the company’s leadership, Robb said, is that as Whole Foods navigates its higher profile, 'we have to recognize that with that comes some responsibility and some accountability. And that’s not a bad thing'."
KC's View:
True. The alternative would be a small company, lower profits, and perceived irrelevance. And that would be a bad thing.

Two things about this story. One is that Robb is absolutely right, and it is a good thing that he isn;'t whining about it. These days, in fact, the size thing may be less important than it used to be, simply because the communications machine is a lot more far-reaching. As we've learned in recent days, a CEO can say something on an Italian radio show, and it can become global news almost instantly, shaping not just perceptions of your company, but the competitive response of the other players in your category. Responsibility and accountability are not dirty words. Unless, of course, you pretend that you don;t have any.

Second, it strikes me when reading this story that it probably was not generated by Whole Foods' s considerable publicity apparatus. No, it was almost certainly prompted by a reporter who an idea and a question. Businesses have to be prepared to deal with such things, and to understand what will happen if your response misses the mark. Because the piece probably gets written even if Robb is, say, petulant about all the attention, or refuses to comment ... and it ends up being a very different kind of story.