“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”–Greek proverb
Tuesday of this week was the long anticipated bonus day. Traditionally this is one of the best, and longest, days of the year. It starts at 6am with a management meeting at Indian Ridge where the year is recapped, the future is talked about and the bonuses are given. The day continues with all department heads and managers handing out the bonuses to every associate personally and thanking them for the great year. Finally, at 6pm, the day culminates with the Sales Team Appreciation dinner back at the Ridge. This is a packed house affair where thanks is given to the other part of our team, sales people and vendors.
This year the whole day had an unusual buzz to it as we can all imagine. Bonuses, an intrinsic part of each associates income, were for a time in jeopardy as the Board looked for ways to reduce them to line the pockets of shareholders. The dinner, long a staple which all sales people looked forward to, was tinged with the potential that it may not continue. In short, there was an elephant in the room that all were concerned with and the beast was threatening to ruin things.
At the morning meeting, Arthur T. Demoulas stepped to the podium to address management, but before he could utter a word he was greeted with a standing ovation. Heartfelt and emotional, 150 or so people let him know just how much he means to each of them. Gracious as always, Arthur mentioned how much this moved him and then he was on to business matters. He recapped the year, informing us that volume is up 8% with same store sales up 2.5%, strong numbers by any measure. No mention of the elephant standing behind him.
He moved on to talk about the bonuses. He recommended the pool for the program be $56m but the board settled on $44m. We could all draw our own conclusions there, but clearly the board decided that the shareholders must be protected at the expense of the associates. Still, the program would be generous thanks to Arthur T. fighting for it. No doubt he shot for the stars so he could settle for the moon…he knew they wouldn’t agree to whatever number he recommended, so thank goodness he didn’t recommend $44m because they surely would have backed off that as well.
Moving on he talked about next year. The future. The elephant in the room. He did not sugarcoat things and tell us that everything was going to be fine, instead he told us that things are uncertain. He spoke of the fact that one of the keys to our success has been that we have always moved in lockstep together as a company. We have been true to our identity from day one: More for Your Dollar; Best People, Best Prices. Now, however, we are faced with a board that is intent on bogging down our decision making with committees and with raising prices to enhance shareholder value. Our nimbleness is being suppressed, our management team is being handcuffed and our core values as a company are being compromised. He referenced a piece on this week’s 60 Minutes about Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon and how their operating philosophies are much like ours. Amazon’s profits are below average by design and its strategies are geared towards the long range rather than quarter to quarter. Bezos stated that all computer metrics tell them that they must raise prices and attain healthy margins, but they always ignore this advice. Doing so would erode customer confidence and trust. He believes that “in the long run, if you take care of customers, that is taking care of the shareholders.” This piece easily could have replaced the names Amazon and Jeff Bezos with Market Basket and Arthur T. Demoulas. As he concluded, once again a standing ovation erupted which had the feel of a “thank you, we have your back” kind of salute to him.
He spoke as he always does in such a professional way, yet you could feel the intensity and emotion. He loves this company and you could sense that with every word he said. The associates, the customers, the vendors and the contractors. The people. Us. We Are Market Basket and he embodies all of the principles that we stand for. Through his leadership we have grown as a company and more importantly as individuals. Under his guidance we have helped build the company which is the envy of the industry, watched and admired by rivals throughout the region and the country. Without him we would be rudderless and adrift. The thought of some search firm appointed CEO being plopped onto our laps should be enough to make any one of us shudder with fear and disgust.
After Tuesday, December 3, it needs to be abundantly clear to anyone involved that the elephant in the room needs to be dealt with. Arthur T. Demoulas, with his calm intensity through all of this, is a man worth fighting for in every sense. This company, OUR company, and its principles are worth fighting for. A large and important part of our way of life is in serious jeopardy and we must never let our guard down until the elephants known as Arthur S. Demoulas and his band of sock puppets are kicked to the curb. Feel free to keep snubbing us and taking our hard earned profits for your own pockets. Continue to underestimate our resolve and dedication in this matter. Buy another Gulfstream jet if you’d like. But take heed…we will not let you win.
We Are Market Basket. You, most certainly, are not.