Insight article

As a CEO is ousted, his employees walk out too

How would your colleagues react if you lost your job?

Many of us would probably entertain some fantasy of everyone rallying to our defence, staging walk-outs, putting their own careers on the line to right such a flagrant injustice.

At Market Basket, a chain of some 70 grocery stores in the north-eastern US, that’s exactly what happened.

Arthur T. Demoulas, CEO, was ousted in June after his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, took control of the board and executed some kind of vendetta that’s not immediately clear from the outside. But we do know that employees of Market Basket were happy with the state of the company as it was, with above-average pay, good benefits and a boss that seemed to genuinely care about them.

What’s also clear is that as change management goes, this case must enter the canon as one of the least successfully communicated transitions in recent memory.

Shelves of produce have gone empty as staff have rallied by the hundreds for the re-hiring of their beloved CEO.

So far, about eight senior managers have been fired in the wake of the walkouts.

According to Boston Magazine, district manager Tom Trainor was one of them.

“I have no regrets—I would do it all over again, and I leave the company I love with my head held high in the knowledge that there wasn’t a single thing more that I could have done. I knew the risk but I also knew that I was fighting for something much bigger than myself. I was fighting for my family, for Arthur T. Demoulas, a man that I have tremendous respect, loyalty, and admiration for.”

It’s not often a wealthy corporate chief executive generates this kind of salt-of-the-earth image among employees. But Demoulas was intensely devoted to both customers and staff members. According to Trainor, when one new store opened, “it took him 4.5 hours just to get in the building because there was a line of customers and employees out there. He took time to speak with every one.”

Clearly, leaders who take the time to get to know and show a genuine respect for their followers will usually get the same kind of respect in return. And, clearly, the board had been quite tone-deaf to the leadership narratives going on the organisation before they ousted Demoulas and brought in two outsiders to serve as co-CEOs.

The plot continues to thicken; Arthur T. has recently said he will attempt to buy the remaining shares of the company with his own funds. Not only that, but a local band has recently composed a protest anthem.

Nailia Tasseel