If your employees felt you were fired unfairly, would they walk off the job in support of you? Would they stage protests and rallies for weeks on end calling for your reinstatement? Would your customers choose to take their business elsewhere to show support to those employees and their cause?
That is what has transpired in the Northeast U.S. over the last six weeks and it provides remarkable lessons for leaders everywhere.
First, a little background. Arthur T. Demoulas (Artie) was fired as CEO of the Market Basket supermarket chain in June by a board of directors controlled by his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, in a classic power struggle of a family owned business. Employees staged protests, warehouse workers and drivers refused to deliver food to the chain’s stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, and the company lost tens of millions in revenue as loyal customers took their business elsewhere. Customers showed their support by going as far as taping their grocery receipts from competing stores to the windows of their local Market Basket. After weeks of negotiations, Artie Demoulas reached agreement to purchase controlling interest in Market Basket and was reinstated as CEO.
As I’ve read various news articles and commentaries on this situation, three important leadership lessons have emerged:
1. A little caring goes a long way – Artie Demoulas has created a unique emotional bond with Market Basket employees that fosters intense loyalty. He is well-known for remembering names and birthdays, checking on the status of ill employees, inquiring about spouses and kids, and attending the funerals of employees. “He’ll walk into a warehouse and will stop and talk to everyone because he’s genuinely concerned about them,” said Joe Schmidt, a store operations supervisor. “He cares about families, he asks about your career goals, he will walk up to part-timers and ask them about themselves. To him, that cashier and that bagger are just important as the supervisors and the store management team.” People want to feel valued at work as more than just workers showing up to do a job. Make the effort to get to know your people on a personal level and you’ll see the rewards of trust and loyalty.
2. Business doesn’t have to pursue profits at the expense of people – Last year Market Basket generated $4.6 billion in revenue and has doubled their profitability since 2008, making it the country’s 127th biggest company despite being a regional chain that operates in only three states. The company pays its clerks starting salaries $4 above minimum wage and full-time employees earn 15% profit-sharing bonuses, all the while Market Basket’s prices are 22% lower on average than their closest competitor. “If there’s anything people should take from this, it’s that America is hungry for this kind of success story where everybody wins: the customers, the employees, and the people who run the show,” said Shawn Dwyer, a manager at the Burlington Market Basket store. Profits don’t have to come at the expense of people. Good leaders value results and people.
3. Work has a higher calling and purpose beyond a paycheck – In his return speech to employees, Artie beautifully expressed this concept.
The workplace here at Market Basket is so much more than just a job.
You have demonstrated that everyone here has a purpose. You have demonstrated that everyone has meaning and no one person is better or more important than another, and no one person holds a position of privilege.
I have always believed that we are born into this world and at a certain place to be with certain people for a reason and a purpose. Everyone has a destiny, and because of you, I stand here with a renewed vigor and a sense of purpose. May we always remember this past summer first as a time where our collective values of loyalty and courage and kindness for one another really prevailed. And, in that process, we just happened to save our company.
You all have demonstrated to the world that it is a person’s moral obligation and social responsibility to protect the culture which provides an honorable and dignified place in which to work.
Leadership doesn’t have to be that complicated: provide a good work environment, take pride in your work, care about people as individuals and not just workers, and serve your customers well. It seems as though Artie Demoulas and the Market Basket employees have found a formula that works and it offers valuable lessons for leaders everywhere.