Wednesday, July 30, 2014

It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s DeMoulas

Visitors to our fair (and, let’s face it, occasionally unfair) city, turning on their hotel TV’s to catch the local news, may well be scratching their heads as they try to understand the battle raging between Arthur T. DeMoulas and Arthur S. DeMoulas.

Friends, for all the shorthand we’ve embraced when we’re referring to them – ATD vs. ASD, Artie T and Artie S – most of us locals don’t really get what’s going on any better than you do.

But I can fill in a few blanks.

Artie T and Artie S are cousins, sons of the men (Mike and George) who built the Market Basket grocery store chain, which has its origins in the mom-and-pop corner store that their Greek immigrant parents owned in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Artie T and Artie S are not exactly kissing cousins, and their blood feud runs deep – at least back to the early death of George, after which, the Artie S faction holds that Mike (Artie T’s father) tried to screw George’s family (that would be the father of Artie S) out of their share of the Market Basket enterprise.

Got it?

Anyway, the courts found that Mike had indeed tried to load up his personal market basket at the expense of George’s heirs, and awarded them 51% interest the chain. But the kertuffling continued, and the battling DeMoulases have been in and out of the news for years – lawsuit this, allegation that. There’s even some Whitey Bulger/bad FBI agent stuff drifting around the periphery.

Over the years, despite the family feud, Artie T ended up running the company. He was CEO until the board ousted him (and a handful of other execs, presumably Artie T allies) in June.

Here’s where the store story gets really interesting.

Artie T was apparently much beloved by the Market Basket employees. To the point where thousands of them – along with Market Basket customers – have been demonstrating for his return.

And we’re not talking a handful of folks milling around carrying Bring Back Artie signs.

As of last Friday, there’ve been three rallies at various locations. One drew 2,500 supporters, another 5,000. The largest rally (Friday’s) brought out an estimated 7,000 to 10,000.

Since Artie T’s ouster, DeMoulas:

…has seen business collapse as customers have boycotted, managers have refused deliveries, employees have rallied outside stores, and stores have run dry of perishable products.(Source:

Politicians are getting in on the act, and Elizabeth Warren – for all practical purposes, as close as we have to a saint of the little people – was booed (in absentia: her name was mentioned) because she has not come out in support of Artie T.

What I find astounding about this is that the employees are showing such ardent support for their former CEO, who it seems was a man who put employees first, made Market Basket a great place to work, etc.

Speakers at the rally [last Friday’s] still expressed their distaste for the company’s past management and recalled stories of their leader-in-exile, Demoulas.

Seriously, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of anything like this.

I did a quick run-through of the CEO’s of the companies I worked for and most of them were charismatic a-holes, non-charismatic a-holes, or useless non-entities. The only one who inspired anything near affection among the ranks was Dr. An Wang, founder of Wang Labs.

I was a late comer to Wang, which was already in the midst of its downward spiral when I joined the company, but the old timers (and some of the new timers) really loved Dr. Wang. As far as I could tell, he was a pretty much a kindly genius, not much given to small talk, but someone to whom many employees were grateful because they’d done pretty well under his leadership.

The biggest gusher I saw directed at Dr. Wang came from none other than Cisco’s John Chambers, who held a senior position at Wang when I was there.

Not that I’ve got much of an eye for executive talent, but I did have enough exposure to John to get that he was the real deal. (I was part of a “let’s save Wang” strategy group, a member of the financial services team, and we got to meet on occasion with senior execs. I remember reporting back to my friends that John was the only one “on Mahogany row” who was worth a damn.)

At some point during my years at Wang, Dr. Wang was diagnosed with cancer, and the news that he was stepping down was broadcast over Wang closed circuit TV.

John Chambers played a prominent role in the announcement, and, in his southern boy accent, and in near tears, gushed all over Dr. Wang, who sat there stoically. (I believe his son Fred was at his side.)

I don’t remember exactly what John said, but to my ears it sounded like, “Oh, Dr. Wang, Dr. Daddy Wang, I hope you don’t mind my telling you that you have always been like a father to me. Dr. Wang, Daddy Dr., Dr. Daddy Wang. Oh, I do so love you, Dr. Daddy Wang.”

I’m sure John was being quite sincere, and that he really did love and admire Dr. Wang. But it didn’t get him the CEO job. (I think it went to Wang.) John moved on over to Cisco. (Good move, John.)

Anyway, until the DeMoulas Demonstrations, this is as close as I’ve come to witnessing a public display of affection aimed at a CEO.

Artie T has announced that he’s putting together an offer to buy Artie S out.

The Market Basket board has said that they will consider it.

Meanwhile, I’m just wowed by the outpouring of support and affection for Artie T.

Who’d a thunk it?


Wonder who’ll play Artie T and Artie S in the movie? Any thoughts?


That’s ATD – the benevolent looking baldy – on the left and more hirsute and sinister looking ASD on the right. Maybe Frank Langella or F. Murray Abraham for Artie S? Roberto Benigni, of Life is Beautiful fame, for Artie T?

1 comment:

valerie said...

George Hamilton posted on FB that he wished this thing would clear up so his Stop and Shop would return to normal. I commented "classic George" and wrote it off to curmudgeonly ways until I went to my Roche. No parking outside; inside stripped to the shelves by locusts; aisles teeming with polyester belly shirt mongols wielding carts in unpredictable navigation patterns. George was right. I drove by the MB in Burlington yesterday where the mob was holding "Market Basket Strong" signs. Really? And returned home in time to catch the 12 news which noted that they are still being paid. Really? I wonder what will happen to their brave Bolshevik ways when the pay stops. (By the way, still laughing at your Chambers' monologue.)