We Are Market Basket: A book review by Bob Morris

We Are Market BasketWe Are Market Basket: The Story of the Unlikely Grassroots Movement That Saved a Beloved Business
Daniel Korshun and Grant Welker
AMACOM (2015)

The Market Basket story “forces us to rethink who really owns a company and who gets to decide how to run it.”

There is a scene near the end of the film Spartacus when the victorious Roman general, Marcus Licinius Crassus (played by Laurence Olivier), tells all of the gladiators still alive that they will be spared (albeit in slavery) if they identify their leader or his body. Otherwise, they will be crucified. One by one, each stands and proclaims, “I am Spartacus!” I was reminded of that scene while reading this book and both understand and appreciate the relevance, indeed the significance of its title. How so?

Briefly, on June 23, 2014, Arthur T. Demoulas was fired by the board of Market Basket (MB) after 40 years at the family-owned company, the last six as its CEO. Within days, there were rallies in the parking lot at MB’s headquarters as part-time clerks, truck drivers, administrative staff members, store directors, and senior managers as well as local suppliers and even customers protested, chanting “We Are Market Basket!”

I commend Daniel Korshun and Grant Welker on their superb skills as raconteurs as they recount a truly remarkable story during which a billionaire CEO is fired and, as indicated, a coup that ignited a firestorm of protests. The “villain” in this tale is Arthur S. Demoulas who engineered the termination of his first cousin so that he could then….

What happened next is best revealed in Korshun and Welker’s lively and eloquent narrative, in context. What is important to keep in mind is that Market Basket was founded in 1914 as a grocery store (in Lowell, Massachusetts) by immigrants, Athanasio (“Arthur”) and Efrosine Demoulas, who were determined to serve other immigrants. By 2015, that one small store had become a $4.5-billion supermarket powerhouse with 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine.

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Korschun and Welker’s coverage:

o Market Basket (MB): The Early Years (Pages 8-17)
o Arthur S. and Arthur T.: The rivalry (27-28, 97-99, and 169-170)
o FB community relations and engagement (44-51, 162-164, and 195-196)
o MB culture as family (55-58, 63-67, and 196-199)
o Employee loyalty to Arthur T. (56-58, 104-107, and 1q96-197)
o MB associates: Decision-making ability (71-74)
o Removal of Arthur T. as CEO (92-94 and 102-108)
o Conflicts between/among MB board members (97-99)
o James (“Jim”) Gooch (108-116)
o MB associates’ involvement in protests and rallies (133-135 and 202-203)
o Success o0f MB protests and rallies (169-176)
o Purpose/mission of MB organization (198-199)

I also commend Korschun and Welker on their provision of four extraordinarily informative appendices that enrich their narrative: “Arthur T. Spars with Arthur S. and Gerard Levins in 2012,” “Arthur S. Spars with William Shea at Board Meeting in 2003,” “More Sparring at Board Meeting, June 25, 2003,” and “Who Is Market Basket?” The corporate cauldron in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, had indeed been gurgling for several years before it finally boiled over on June 23, 2014.

Korschun and Welker are convinced that there are several valuable lessons to be learned for the Market Basket saga: “Above all, the story forces us to rethink who really owns a company and who gets to decide on how it is run.” I agree and presume to add two other lessons that I either learned or was reminded of. First, especially in a family-owned company such as Market Basket, it is imperative for a CEO (unless a majority stockowner) to keep her or his friends and enemies close and family members even closer.

Also, with regard to who owns what, consider this passage from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

That is precisely why thousands of associates proclaimed, “We are Market Basket!” With all due respect to their quite sincere loyalty to Arthur T., they were not about to let Arthur S. and his cohorts take “their” company from them.

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