On the heels of the Labor Day holiday, I can’t help but think about the workers of Market Basket, who went on strike when their beloved CEO Arthur T. Demoulas was ousted this past June because of his management style by a board of directors controlled by his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas (I know, it’s a little confusing, the two Arthurs . . just think of Arthur T as the ‘true’ one, and of Arthur S as a . . . well, you get the picture). A bit of back history: The Market Basket grocery store chain is a longtime family business located throughout New England. It was started by the Arthurs’ grandfather who opened his first store in Lowell, Massachusetts almost a hundred years ago. As is all too common in family-run businesses, the infighting amongst the Demoulas clan has been escalating for years. But this time it got truly ugly.
I’m sure you’ve heard the story by now of how the chain’s employees stood in solidarity for weeks behind Arthur T. They were willing to suffer loss of income, even possible eventual job loss, in support of a guy who’d always treated them “like family.” Hundreds of drivers and warehouse workers refused to deliver food, leading to empty shelves and millions of dollars in lost sales. Baggers, check-out clerks, janitors, managers, you name it, walked out, leading to temporary store closures. After the company fired eight supervisors who helped organize the initial revolt, public support for the employees’ efforts skyrocketed. Thousands of citizen signatures were collected on petitions calling for the boycott of Market Basket. Customers stopped shopping there, some even attaching their receipts from competitors to the windows of Market Basket stores (nice touch there, I must say, almost a scene out of “It’s A Wonderful Life”). Business totally tanked, until finally the cousin backed down. Arthur T. has been reinstated, the employees are happy and back to work. Your basic happy ending.
Ironically, here in Boulder, our local natural foods grocery store company Alfalfa’s is going through a similar tricky situation. “There is no joy in Mudville” today, as the news of the ousting of Mark Retzolf (founder, “heart and soul” and now former CEO) by Alfalfa’s board of directors hit the streets today. Same sort of thing: Mark treats his employees with generosity and respect, from that same “family” model; he manages from the heart (also from a very savvy and experienced business brain) and he has always held solidly to a high standard for the now two stores the company owns. There had been some disagreements over that approach of late with some (not all) board members and stockholders.
Will there be a happy ending here someday with Alfalfa’s? Hard to say. Many of us in the community are hoping that a small company which currently offers proven, known healthy products (no GMOs etc) does not turn into Trader XXX’s. We have plenty of those to choose from. But only one Alfalfa’s (well, make that two, they just opened a beautiful new store in a community nearby). I don’t expect an employee revolt (nor would I judge anyone for wanting to hold onto their livelihood and income in these tough times). But the general feeling amongst the staff I spoke to yesterday was shock, sadness and disbelief. Particularly at how poorly the change was handled. A great guy like Mark Retzolf certainly deserved better treatment. And a more dignified exit.
Like I say, no joy in Mudville.
Now, onto happier thoughts: We’ve got a great show for you this week! One that originally aired just a year ago. Our musical visitors include the band Pickwick who bring their Americana-style blend of folk, indie rock and soul, as well as singer/songwriter/guitarist Tommy Malone, member of the legendary blues rock group Subdudes, who joins us this week as a solo artist behind his recent individual CD effort. And we have one of THE coolest in-person eChievement Award segments, a dedicated doctor who travels all the way from Ethiopia to join us and tell us about his efforts to bring a new life to severely deformed poor children
(I know, sounds intense; but its actually one of the most joyful stories we’ve ever presented).
I hope you’ll join us! Tune in to your favorite radio station, or podcast this week’s program (get your free eTown iPhone app or podcast from our website, etown.org or from iTunes). To whet your appetite, here’s some great video moments below from the show.