New England has been watching a family feud better than any “reality” show could dream up; after years of in-fighting, Arthur T. DeMoulas was fired in June as CEO of Market Basket, a grocery store chain with 71 stores and 25,000 employees, by his cousin-led board of directors. What has happened since then will be the subject of management classes for years. Here is a sampling:
- Employees have held rallies at company headquarters, the latest with estimates of between 6,000 and 15,000 attending, protesting “Artie T”’s firing and demanding his reinstatement. Customers have joined the rallies wholeheartedly.
- Some store managers have signed a petition stating that they would resign if their boss was not reinstated or if the company was sold to an outside buyer.
- As I write this, the Save Market Basket Facebook page, in support of Arthur T., has almost 76,000 Likes. The Page started on July 12, 2013.
- Warehouses are full, as warehouse employees have refused to show up for work.
- Store parking lots are virtually empty, as loyal customers support the employees and Artie T.
As I listen to the ongoing saga every day and listen to the impact on virtually every grocery store customer in New England, I wonder about a boss so well-loved that employees across all levels, departments, and locations would walk away from their job.
- Arthur T. was known for treating employees, who are not unionized, very well, with good benefits, above-average pay and an employee retirement fund. Well, there are other companies who pay their employees well.
- One protesting employee remarked about Artie T’s business skills and said that profits doubled during his eight-year tenure as CEO. Again, there are many companies who have grown profits.
- Artie T. created a vision for the company: The customer comes first. Market Basket is known for fresh products, low prices and high levels of customer service, fulfilling that vision in every store. Thankfully, there are examples of fabulous customer service in virtually every industry so again, I ask, what would make employees walk away from their job, some held for decades, to support an ousted CEO?
The answer, it seems to me, is something every single business owner has the opportunity to give and to be: employees repeatedly say that Artie T cares. He remembers family member names, he asks how the kids are doing in school (and he remembers the school names, too); he attends employees’ family weddings and funerals; he congratulates team members for their accomplishments, able to cite specifics; he celebrates in store openings, talking with employees and customers and shaking hands, seemingly more happy to be in a store rather than an office. Employees mention their former CEO’s integrity, approachability, and generosity.
Arthur T. has shown employees how he wants customers treated by the way he has treated employees – with care.