Leadership Lessons From the Unusual Story of Market Basket

An Uplifting Corporate Story

We often read stories about corporate greed, about slimy executives, about profits at the expense of people. These stories grab headlines because they hit a nerve and fuel anger. I have never read a story quite like We Are Market Basket: The Story of the Unlikely Grassroots Movement That Saved a Beloved Business where employees and customers joined together to demand the return of a fired CEO.

The story may be unique, but it offers powerful lessons and insight into the changing nature of how we view corporations and what we expect as employees.

I recently spoke with the authors, Daniel Korschun and Grant Welker, about this story.

 

Loyalty is Demonstrated Every Day

This story has so many powerful lessons. One of those is about loyalty. What does the We Are Market Basket teach us about loyalty?

Arthur T. and much of the senior management team have been extraordinarily successful at engendering loyalty. But loyalty at this company tends to be viewed as a two-way street. Employees – they call themselves associates – we speak with tell us that they feel loyal to the company and top management because they feel a loyalty to them from that top management. So what we see at Market Basket is people who are reaffirming their commitment to each other over time. The result is these very strong bonds we see. The lesson for managers is that you can’t expect loyalty without making a sacrifice yourself. You’re not going to gain loyalty just by changing the pay or the job responsibilities; it’s something that has to be demonstrated every day.

 

“You can’t expect loyalty without making a sacrifice yourself.”

 

A Respect for Others

Why did Arthur T. inspire such passion and loyalty?

Arthur T. is beloved as the CEO largely because he gives all associates, customers, and vendors respect. He says explicitly that no one person is special at the company, and from what we’ve seen he walks the walk.

But it’s also important to point out his place in the protest. Bringing back Arthur T. was the central demand of protesters, but in our view, they were fighting to save the company’s culture. Reinstating Arthur T. became the critical step in making sure that this New England institution continued to serve those who have known it for years, and sometimes for generations.

Market Basket 

A Lesson for Boards and Corporate Leaders

What does the Market Basket experience teach boards of directors?

Most business schools today teach that the fiduciary responsibility of directors is to look after the interests of shareholders. However, this idea is simply not supported by the corporate code in Massachusetts and many other states. The code states explicitly that the board is to be a steward of the corporation, which includes customers, employees, shareholders, and others. We need to hold our boards to this higher standard.

Leadership lesson: A corporation’s duties extend beyond shareholders to the broader community.

 

A Commitment to the Community

Selling to the C-Suite

In a previous post, I shared my opinions on selling to the top of an organization and why it isn’t always the best route to success.

There are obviously times when selling to the top is not only smart, but it’s required. Recently, I was asked about how to approach busy professionals with an idea, product, or service. If you are selling to senior executives, here are a few guidelines that may prove helpful.

 

“Stop selling. Start helping.” –Zig Ziglar

Be prepared.

As a sales leader, knowing your own company and your product is a requirement.  Take it a step further.  You need to know our company, too. When someone obviously hasn’t so much as looked at the company’s Web site, he has already lost credibility.  Don’t flaunt your advanced preparation, but work in ways you think we will benefit from a relationship.

It applies on the phone, too.  I can’t tell you how many people who finally do get me on the line are not prepared.  If you’re ready for the gatekeeper, but not the person you’re targeting, here’s a hint:  Don’t make the call.  Do your homework.

 

“Timid salesmen have skinny kids.” –Zig Ziglar

 

Be clear.

Don’t launch into a stream of acronyms or nonsensical statements.  No, I’m not meeting with you for an hour to learn to “drive efficiencies throughout the organization, maximizing ROI and improving profits.”  Really.  We do that every day, and we know the business and you don’t.  So, be clear on what the benefit is to the organization.  Don’t use complex language designed to impress.

 

“Every sale has 5 basic obstacles: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, no trust.” –Zig Ziglar

 

Be crisp.

We’re all busy.  Don’t drag it out.  Most executives are incredibly busy and bottom-line oriented.  If you catch my attention, then you will have more leeway and time to make your case.