Sunday, August 17, 2014

Why What's Happening at Market Basket Should Matter to Us All

If you aren't from New England, you may never have heard of the Market Basket supermarket chain. When I was growing up in Andover, MA, it was called DeMoulas, which is the name of the family that started it. Somewhere along the line the name changed to Market Basket, but the Demoulas family still owns it.

Problem is, the Demoulases are a family divided. The current players are two fellows named Arthur Demoulas - Arthur S. and Arthur T. The two Arthurs have been warring for many years. Until recently, Arthur T. controlled the majority vote and was the CEO. But this year, Arthur S. gained control of the majority and immediately got the Board to vote to fire Arthur T.

And that's when it gets interesting. Turns out that Arthur T. is a man beloved by the employees (more than 25,000 of them) for his fairness and humane management style. Employees feel he cares about them, knows their names and treats them well by offering fair pay and benefits. Customers are loyal too, because Market Basket offers good product selection, fair prices and convenient locations.

There is no union at Market Basket. Yet the employees have refused to stand idly by and simply allow what they believe to be a wrongful action - the firing of Arthur T.

A handful of top level managers got the ball rolling with their refusal to support the Board's decision. They were promptly fired. Then the truck drivers refused to deliver goods from the warehouses to the stores. It snowballed fast, as employees began protesting peacefully during breaks. Not just a few employees - thousands of them. Customers quickly joined in supporting the employees by boycotting the stores - easy enough to do because most of the shelves are bare. But customers have also gone so far as to join the protests and speak at rallies.

Arthur T. Demoulas - Artie - was in my graduating class at Andover High School. I didn't know him then and I don't know him now. A number of my high school friends think he was and is a great guy. A few people on our Andover Townie Facebook page didn't like him so much. So I'm not here to nominate Arthur T. for sainthood. He's just a person like the rest of us, who's life has probably got check marks in both the plus and minus columns like we all do.

BUT! He has done something pretty amazing, and that is that he has run a profitable modern corporation in a way that makes his employees feel like they matter. So much so that they have now put their jobs - their livelihoods - on the line to support him.

Yes, the employees and customers of Market Basket are standing up for a person - Artie T. But they are really standing up for something deeper; something that Artie T's management style and philosophy fostered; something that matters to everyone. They are standing up for their right to work for a company that sees them as partners in its success - not as pawns or possessions. Artie T. created a work environment that gave his employees a sense of dignity.

I think that many leaders of modern corporations think employees don't care about their employers beyond their paychecks and benefits. But it's kind of a chicken and egg thing - who stopped caring first? The employees or the employers?

The Market Basket case should show companies -large or small - something very important:

People at the top of companies are not the only people who matter. A company's success depends on ALL the people who work there and all the people who buy its products or services. People want to care about where they work. People want to be treated humanely and fairly. People want to feel like they are part of something that matters. People want to contribute to something that succeeds. People want to be proud of what they do and where they work.

And if you create a work environment that fosters that, people WILL stand up for you. And if you don't, they WILL fight against you - overtly or covertly - and they CAN take you down. People are not disposable. People are not dispensable. And, as Market Basket is quickly finding out, in today's environment, people are not instantly replaceable. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

Market Basket employees and customers believe that they are trying to save this company. They have reminded us that we all do matter and we all can make a difference. They have shown us that they will not be treated like cattle. They will not be treated like possessions. They will not be treated like interchangeable parts. They have shown that people will stand up and fight for what they think is right, even at great cost to themselves. Leaders of companies everywhere should sit up and take notice.

Click  HERE to go to the Save Market Basket Facebook Page

4 comments:

  1. How wonderful to hear of an employer like that. And I really, really hope that Market Basket can be saved. Saved as a business where people (all the people) do matter.
    I don't play FB so cannot add my bit there - but I have fingers and toes crossed.

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    1. I hope it can be saved too. Thousands of people's jobs are at risk, plus the loss of something that was special. It would be sad to let anger, hate, greed and a desire for revenge defeat integrity.

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  2. Dear Melissa, I so agree with the sentiments you expressed in this post. The following words you wrote sums up for me what we need: "They are standing up for their right to work for a company that sees them as partners in its success - not as pawns or possessions. Artie T. created a work environment that gave his employees a sense of dignity."

    I remember when, several years ago in a New England milling town, the factory burnt and the owner--an elderly man beloved by his employees, said he'd rebuild. He paid his employees during the rebuilding time because he said that they knew their jobs and he didn't want to lose them.

    He was interviewed on TV news and praised for being a hero. He said that he wasn't a hero, he was simply "doing what was right." That's the kind of employer people need today. Peace.

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    1. Yes, Dee - interestingly that man and business was also from our area. The company was Malden Mills in Lawrence, MA. My brother worked there one summer on his college break. The owner did exactly what you said. I think perhaps a true hero is someone who does what is right and is surprised when people think that makes him a hero!

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