Gut Check: Would Your Employees Put Their Necks On The Line For You?

September 15, 2014 Vince Molinaro
Gut Check: Would Your Employees Put Their Necks On The Line For You?

It would be hard to imagine a CEO more loved by his employees than Arthur T. Demoulas of Market Basket, an iconic, 71-store chain of New England grocery stores.

In early August, several hundred workers at family owned market basket walked off their jobs in protest after Demoulas was ousted by his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, and other family members. Thousands more employees attended rallies and protests to demand Arthur T’s return to the helm of the chain.

How did Arthur T. Demoulas become so popular? In addition to earning a reputation as a fair-minded CEO, Demoulas insisted his employees be paid 20 to 30 per cent more than industry rates. And he spearheaded a 100-per-cent company-funded profit-sharing retirement program that was the envy of employees in the grocery industry.

When other shareholders demanded a change in management, in large part to ready the company to be bought out by a private equity firm, the board took Arthur T. and his executive team out. This prompted the non-unionized employees to walk off the job.

The impasse, which also included a widespread customer boycott, ended with an announcement that Arthur T. had bought out his rival family members for $1.5 billion, a deal that would allow him to resume day-to-day operations of the company.

I have tried to imagine being a CEO so beloved that my employees would walk off the job to support me in a time of need. It’s a remarkable expression of loyalty and affection that is truly unique.

Although ‘being loved’ is not necessarily part of a CEO’s job description, there is no doubt that a loyal workforce is a great advantage in any competitive industry.

Unfortunately, far too many CEOs are estranged from their workers, either because of their management style, or because they are reaping pay and benefits that are completely out of whack with what employees are making.

Demoulas’ story is important for all leaders because there was no one thing that created all that loyalty. He was a CEO who earned the respect of his employees over a long period of time with a number of important initiatives and measures.

Yes, the profit sharing was a big part of the relationship he had with employees. But many of the workers who walked away from their jobs to protest Demoulas’ firing said they were doing it because they loved their company and wanted to protect its unique culture.

Demoulas’ relationship with his employees is truly remarkable and begs a very important Gut Check question: would your employees put their jobs on the line for you?

About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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