A developing story about a grocery chain’s CEO and his workers is giving new meaning to the phrase “employee appreciation.”
Employees at the Massachusetts-based Market Basket are pushing for their recently ousted CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas, to be reinstalled. Demoulas’ firing is the latest in a decades-long feud between members of the Demoulas family that runs Market Basket. Demoulas was replaced in June by a board controlled by his cousin. (For more background, inbound marketing leader HubSpot has an in-depth analysis of the saga on its blog.)
Employees are showing their appreciation for Demoulas’ leadership by coming together in large numbers to protest his firing. Some have even quit, putting the company and its stores at risk. The Boston Globe reported that thousands of Market Basket workers turned out to a rally last week in support of Demoulas. The employees demanded the return of their beloved CEO by cheering “Ar-tie T!” and waving flags made out of Market Basket plastic bags.
“Such an outpouring of goodwill for a millionaire CEO from hourly wage workers confounds our sense of how business in America works today. We’re much more accustomed to workers protesting their company’s policies,” writes Boston journalist Luke O’Neil for Slate.
In this unfolding story, customers are now boycotting Market Basket stores in support of employees and Demoulas. Just yesterday Market Basket announced plans to replace dissident workers in a “hardball” move says Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University.
So how exactly did this CEO — affectionately called Artie T. or Uncle Arthur T. — become so revered by his employees that it’s driving employee protests? Because employee appreciation goes both ways at Market Basket. The support that employees are showing Demoulas now is a “thank you” for the decades of appreciation Demoulas has shown them.
Arthur T. Demoulas has an employee appreciation record that makes him a role model for company leaders in any industry.
Here’s how he did it.
1. Good pay
Experience is rewarded at Market Basket. An experienced cashier can make over $40,000 a year, and experienced managers can make six figures, according to Slate. As a result, many employees stick with the company for decades — practically unheard of in an industry where employee retention is typically measured in months, not years.
2. Great benefits
Market Basket matches about 15 percent of annual pay to a retirement fund, in addition to providing stipends for college and substantial bonuses throughout the year. As CEO, Demoulas looked out for the financial interest of employees even when times got tough for the company. In 2008, he “made sure the company made up for a loss of $46 million that the profit-sharing fund suffered during the economic crisis,” according to Slate.
3. Personable leadership
HubSpot’s Lindsay Kolowich describes Demoulas as “the kind of rare leader that defied the traditional gap between executives and the rest of their workforce.” As a CEO, Demoulas showed a deep, personal appreciation for his employees, and did so in a way that inspired an entire company culture of appreciation.
A website organized by employees, We Are Market Basket, puts it this way:
“He walks through the stores and warehouses and truly knows the people, not just their names but their families, kids etc…Arthur T Demoulas is more than respected in our company, he is revered by all.
“Market Basket is so much more than brick and mortar buildings that sell groceries, Market Basket is an ideology that exists in every one of us, our culture is tied to this ideology and our ideology exists only with Arthur T Demoulas as our leader.”
4. People over profits (but not instead of profits)
Demoulas proves that caring about people doesn’t negate financial success. Indeed, Market Basket is an American success story. A Greek immigrant couple opened the first store in 1916, and the business has stayed in the family. Now the low-priced grocery chain, valued at $3 to $3.5 billion, has 71 stores with more than 25,000 employees throughout the Northeast.
The chain can afford to keep prices low and keep its employees well-compensated because of smart business practices that aid retention. Experienced employees at every level means more efficiency, better customer service and a happier work environment.
5. In it for the long haul
Arthur T. Demoulas could walk away, still a rich man, and wash his hands of Market Basket, but he’s reportedly seeking to return to the company and buy it outright. Boston Globe’s Shirley Leung wrote in a recent editorial that his return to the company, however it happens, is the right course of action.
“If happy, loyal workers are what made the chain what it is today — a regional grocery juggernaut with a cult-like following – the company has lost that advantage,” she wrote. “If Demoulas Super Markets Inc. wants a shot at getting it back, the board needs to give workers what they want: Arthur T.”
However the Market Basket leadership decides to move forward, there are two important takeaways to keep in mind from the current situation: 1) a single person can set the tone for employee appreciation within a company, and 2) once that tone of employee appreciation takes hold, it become a company culture that is infinitely bigger and stronger.
For more on building an amazing culture of employee appreciation and success, download our FREE ebook, “Winning with Workplace Gratitude”.
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