, Salem, MA

July 23, 2013

Our view: One company whose CEO, employees have each other's backs

The Salem News

---- — We still don’t know what really happened behind the closed doors of a Wyndham Hotel conference room last week where the Market Basket grocery store chain’s board of directors met to consider a motion to fire CEO Arthur T. Demoulas.

The private meeting lasted for more than 12 hours and adjourned with no statement by the board on what it did or didn’t do or what its next step will be. The board will meet again in about a month.

All we have to go by is a statement by Arthur T. Demoulas after the meeting indicating that the board did not vote on a motion to remove him and he remains the head of the operation.

“I am pleased with today’s result,” he said. “I hope to work constructively with the board going forward.”

The latter part of the statement hints at issues that remain unresolved.

Some board members have accused the CEO of ignoring board directives and engaging in “self-dealing” by directing Market Basket real estate business to family firms.

The critics proposed to replace him with a cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, who comes from a side of the Demoulas family that for two decades has been battling with Arthur T.’s side for control of the prosperous business.

While we don’t know what occurred or what was said at the board meeting, we do know one thing for sure after Thursday:

Arthur T. Demoulas has an extraordinarily loyal and hard-working core of employees.

In the days leading up to the board meeting, they organized a petition campaign that collected tens of thousands of signatures from customers and employees. More than 44,000 signed an online version of the petition. Thousands more signed at tables set up at many Market Basket stores.

Store managers and employees also bought full-page ads in The Salem News and sister papers the day before the meeting.

But if there were any doubts left whose side the employees were on, they ended on Thursday.

By the hundreds, the employees gathered outside the Wyndham despite 90-degree temperatures. Almost everyone seemed to have a sign: “Arthur T IS Market Basket,” “He Goes, We Go,” “Art Strong.”

When Arthur T. arrived in a chauffeured car about a half hour after the board meeting was to start, he received a hero’s welcome. The crowd cheered and clapped and closed in on either side of the silver Mercury sedan. As the car slowly parted the sea of people, hands stretched out to touch the CEO’s through the open car window.

Workers clearly believe they have a stake in the battle. They say they have been treated very well, with benefits that include a lucrative profit-sharing plan. They worry a new CEO will take some of that away to increase profits.

Customers say they also have a stake. Market Basket really means it when it says it offers them “More for Your Dollar.”

By following that principle, while providing friendly customer service, Market Basket has prospered. It is still growing, even as others cut back.

It’s hard not to think the outpouring of support by the people who really matter to any business — the employees and customers — made the directors at least stop and think about what they were doing.

Let’s hope whatever issues linger between the CEO and the board can be resolved and Market Basket will continue to be the asset it has been for the community for decades more.

After all, as one homemade sign asked, “Why Mess with Success?”