Editorial: Improbable plot arrives at its happy ending
As a summer blockbuster pitch, it’s a ridiculous story.
Two cousins with the same name run a successful, multibillion-dollar company – but they can’t stand each other. One day, in a Shakespearean coup, the bad cousin wrests control of the company from the good cousin, which creates an uprising among employees loyal to the good cousin. In another twist, it turns out that most of the customers are loyal to those same employees, and they agree to boycott the company even though they can’t really afford to. After two months of protests and daily losses in the millions, the bad cousin realizes he has no choice but to cede control of the company to the relative he despises. The good cousin is immediately reinstated as president and CEO, and the employees and customers rejoice.
As a documentary pitch, it’s the Market Basket story.
Late Wednesday night, Arthur T. Demoulas agreed to purchase stock owned by rival family members led by his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas for $1.5 billion. The deal won’t be finalized for several months, but in the meantime Artie T. will again handle day-to-day operations of the $4.3 billion supermarket chain.
Of course all employees are invited back to work, and they couldn’t be happier.
“Tonight we raise a glass to Artie T. and each other as we have achieved the most improbable of upsets,” said a post on wearemarketbasket.com. “Tomorrow we go to work, and never in the history of people going to work will so many people be so happy to punch the clock.”
That may be the end of the Hollywood part of the story, but what happens to Market Basket – and to corporate America – after the credits roll?
For Market Basket, the focus will be on rebuilding the brand. It’s unlikely the company will lose many of the loyal patrons who struggled to make ends meet during the boycott, but it’s possible the dynamic will change among the less-hardcore customers.
Did those shoppers discover things they preferred about Hannaford, Shaw’s and other markets? Will they demand Market Basket offer a better experience for shoppers? Will they be less likely to shop there exclusively? Will any of the new conveniences offered by other markets cancel out the savings at Market Basket?
As for employees, it’s possible success will embolden them to demand even greater benefits once the honeymoon period of Artie T.’s return is over. It’s also possible that a rocky financial recovery will lead to leaner times and put a strain on worker loyalty. And Artie T. has become a national celebrity with a saint-like reputation. Benevolence may be natural for him, but it now comes with added scrutiny and exposure. There’s no saying how his newfound fame and widespread adoration will affect him.
It will also take time to learn whether the Market Basket story has changed corporate America.
Business schools will study the case, and authors will write about it. Artie T.’s name will come up in boardroom pep talks, and downtrodden employees throughout the nation will find inspiration in the story. Perhaps even a few profit-hungry CEOs will re-evaluate their relationships with employees and customers, though it’s doubtful many will suddenly morph into George Bailey, with Artie T. serving as Clarence Odbody, Angel 2nd Class. It is possible, however, that they’ve learned something about the power of earned loyalty.
The epilogue of this summer saga has yet to be written, but for now it’s enough to join employees and customers in celebrating the most remarkable of feel-good stories.