August 26, 2019

Lowell Sun: Five years ago this month, Market Basket showed the unprecedented was possible

[…] “Watching this unfold was really pretty extraordinary,” said Maggie Hassan, then the governor of New Hampshire and now a U.S. senator from that state. “We were seeing employees and customers and community members all come together to try to preserve an institution that obviously meant more to them than just a place to buy groceries.”

[…] Ultimately, it took six weeks of losing 90 percent or more in sales before a resolution.

The standoff sometimes felt like a game of chicken, with the two sides of the Demoulas family failing to reach an agreement even after the company’s new leadership stopped scheduling nearly all part-time store workers. They wanted to bring costs in line with revenue, and with no revenue, thousands were without paychecks in the last weeks of the standoff.

That was when Hassan, then the New Hampshire governor, and Deval Patrick, the Massachusetts governor at the time, reluctantly got involved. They had stayed on the sidelines of what they labeled a private family dispute in which they had no rightful role. Patrick said he was particularly hesitant looking at the years of fighting between the two sides of the family.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, they’ve been at this for 20-something years,’” said Patrick, who now works for the Boston investment firm Bain Capital investing in socially responsible companies. “What can we do to get them to yes?’”

Patrick, who was spending part of that August at his home in the Berkshires, wanted to see if the two sides of the dispute were serious about reaching a deal, so he invited them to the governor’s western Massachusetts office in Springfield. The casual Sunday afternoon meeting was supposed to last an hour but stretched to about four.

“We agreed there was enough there to take some heat off and have another conversation,” Patrick said.

Arthur S.’s side had concerns about Arthur T.’s side having enough financing to buy the entirely of the company, Patrick said, and Arthur S. wanted to be sure he could accept a deal emotionally that would leave him with no stake in the company for, essentially, the first time in his life.

Today, Patrick credits both sides with reaching a deal and recognizing what the company meant not only to shareholders but others, including workers and customers.

“I think the principals felt that it was just, and I think the public felt that it got resolved in the nick of time,” he said.

Hassan described the governors’ meeting with Arthur T. and Arthur S. and their respective teams as intense at times, and very frustrating.

“At times, it felt excruciating,” Hassan said.

Just before the summer ended, the two sides reached an agreement late in the evening of Aug. 27 in which Arthur T. would buy the entirety of the company his grandparents founded. He addressed workers and shoppers the following morning, seen publicly for the first time that summer.

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By:  Grant Welker