More Than a Job: The Good Guys Finish First at Market Basket

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Earlier this summer, New England-based regional grocery chain Market Basket became the center of a lot of attention regarding the ousting of the company’s highly-respected and beloved chief executive Arthur T. Demoulas. The company, looking for a change in leadership, relieved Demoulas of his duties much to the ire of their employee base, which subsequently revolted. Employees went on strike, customers boycotted the store, and Market Basket as a company suffered immensely.

What makes the story interesting is that we almost never see action like this — particularly from a non-union, family-owned company. Market Basket had built a name for themselves by treating their employees very well. Workers received living wages, paid sick leave, and were often encouraged to work their way up the corporate ladder — a far different experience than what many experience in other retail environments in the industry.

Not only that, but the company was able to stay committed to lower and middle-class customers, keeping prices low while still turning significant profits. If there is a perfect balance in benevolence and savvy business practice, Market Basket had found it. But that’s also why Demoulas’s ousting was such a big deal. He seemed to be universally-loved, and when a rival family-faction with a controlling interest in the company decided to get rid of him, it inspired a massive backlash.

The past couple of months have seen the drama play out as managers have been fired and profits have suffered, but there is a happy ending to the saga.

Demoulas will be returning to his position as the company’s CEO following a settlement, which sees Demoulas and a number of his allies purchase a 50.5 percent stake in the company at a price of $1.5 billion.

What we have on our hands is a situation that is incredibly rare in the lexicon of American business, although probably not completely without precedent. First of all, a company that is not only successful, but beloved by their customer base — and evidently most of their employees — is not the typical example of how people view many enterprises. Market Basket is a true far cry from the Wal-Marts and Comcasts of the world, and when it was apparent that the company was in danger of losing its coveted status, employees stood up to stop it.

How often do employees actually stick up for their boss? Or the CEO in particular? It does happen, but not the point where an entire company comes to a grinding halt. And Demoulas couldn’t be more thankful to the employees he’s fostered over the years.

“Words cannot express how much I miss you. Words cannot express how much I love you,” Demoulas said to his employees, as reported by CBS. “You, and only you, have taught the educators, you have taught the professors, the analysts and the CEOs that the work place here at Market Basket is so much more than just a job.”

What was the last time an executive spoke to his or her employees like that?

The important thing to note out of the entire Market Basket story is that it appears to be possible to make positive changes within an organization with enough people behind the cause. Imagine if a similar situation had happened in a company like Wal-Mart. Everyone would have been fired and replaced in a matter of days. But there is a sense of genuine caring between Demoulas and the employees of Market Basket, and they both seem focused on continuing to make their company stand out.

This is the case of the benevolent CEO and the employees who refused to let him go. And there are definitely some lessons that can be learned and applied to other businesses after watching it all unfold.

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