The grocery industry, like the child care industry, has a notoriously high rate of employee turnover. And unlike the child care industry, the rigors of the work aren’t tempered at all by warm baby cuddles and sloppy toddler kisses.
In large part, working at a grocery store consists of physically taxing, mentally draining days full of annoyingly clueless shoppers (like me) who can’t find the horseradish even when it’s six inches in front of them. And nobody’s there for the fantastic pay.
Which is what makes the current saga of our local Market Basket chain of grocery stores so extraordinary.
The gentleman above is Arthur T. Demoulas, the recently ousted CEO of the chain. He was fired by the company’s board, which is controlled by his cousin (making this year’s family holiday gathering a bit awkward at best, one can only assume), and replaced by a pair of geographically distant co-CEOs.
(Co-CEOs, incidentally, are almost always a terrible idea and generally result from nobody wanting to be the person with whom the buck truly stops. But I digress.)
Demoulas is tremendously beloved by his workers – so much so, in fact, that many of them have decided to stop coming to work unless and until he is reinstated as CEO. The workers’ written demand states in no uncertain terms that they want him back with “full authority, non-negotiable…We will not work for anyone but ATD.”
Workers at all levels – none of them unionized – have walked off the job, putting their paychecks at risk, and thousands have attended local rallies. They have been joined both in person and online by tens of thousands of loyal Market Basket customers, all of whom are united with the workers in wanting to “save our store” and bring the popular CEO back.
As of this writing, the local stores are nearly empty; deliveries of fresh groceries have been halted due to the walkouts. We’re all waiting with bated breath to see what happens next.
It’s truly been something to see. While it’s impossible for me, as an outsider to the company, to know exactly what’s going on behind closed doors (the scuttlebutt is that the new leadership is all about maximizing profits for themselves), here’s what seems to be indisputed:
- Demoulas genuinely cares about his workers and values their contributions, providing them with generous bonuses and profit-sharing packages.
- His store visits have been known to take hours, as he’s interested in talking with everyone he can and finding out both how they’re doing and what they think about things.
- He has exhibited extraordinary generosity and compassion when workers (or their family members) encounter personal misfortunes or serious illness.
- He is committed to providing excellent service at a fair price – as a regular Market Basket shopper, I have seen this in action.
- In a high-turnover industry, Market Basket is full of workers who have been there 10, 20, or even 30 years or more (everyone’s length of tenure is proudly posted right on their nametags).
- He has created not just a chain of food stores, but a cherished corporate culture with a life and identity of its own.
Demoulas has been quoted as saying, “We’re in the people business first and the food business second…If we get the first part right, we’re 80 percent there.”
This is one smart man – and someone early childhood educators can learn a lot from.
It can be tempting, watching yet another new teacher flake out or quit without notice, to get discouraged and accept the status quo of the revolving-door culture of ECE staff.
But if you take the time to hire carefully, nurture and train your teachers, steep them in all that makes your child care center special, appreciate and reward them to the best of your ability, and make them a trusted, integral part of the process every day, you may be surprised at how long they start to stick around – and how valuable they become to you.
The bottom line is that great leadership leads to great loyalty and exceptional performance, regardless of what business you’re in.
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