Nobody’s looked to the supermarket world to fill their shopping carts with high stakes drama. Until now.
Arthur “S” and Arthur “T” Demoulas, cousins and co-owners of the Market Basket grocery store chain, share the same first and last name, but their approach to managing their super market empire couldn’t be more rifted. Their family feuding has left their company wilted; open for competitors to rabidly take over their market share. Whatever credibility they may have enjoyed as business leaders, is now fodder for checkout line tabloids. Sadly, these are not the leaders you want to model your family business after.
According to an article in the Boston Business Journal, Demoulas Super Markets, better known as Market Basket, was the fastest growing retailer in Eastern Massachusetts, until last year. But extreme internal family feuding has left the company weak and exposed – easy prey for competitors seeking to recover what Market Basket has snatched from them over the last several years.
So how did things go so wrong? Could a public conflict of this grandeur have been avoided? Yes. And here’s how.
Prevention is better than cure. If you don’t want family conflict to ruin your family business, address it – head on. Backstabbing, betrayal and espionage make great plots for Hollywood scripts, but should be left out of family business affairs.
In virtually every case related to family business conflict – one where mistrust and exploitation are as easy to find as junk food in checkout line – it’s critical to address issues in an open, neutral forum. Conflict may not be on the radar screen, but it will arise. Discussing common issues ahead of time can minimize, or even stave off the intense emotions that come with family business conflict.
A family business’s success is the sum of all its parts. That means each family member plays a key role in the company’s growth – or ruin. Each family business has a unique personality that drives, and brakes, its success. That causes conflict. But conflict, despite its negative reputation, can be necessary for growth by serving as the catalyst for new ideas and solutions. But it has to be carefully managed.
There are some key ways to do this. For instance, create a family mission statement. While that sounds simple, a family business that stresses integrity and mutual trust tends to see business ownership as a vehicle to make a difference, rather than allow the business to run their lives.
Easy does it. Even the most successful family businesses routinely find themselves facing conflict. High performing and high functioning family companies don’t attempt to avoid conflict or difficult issues. So it’s important to make sure you plan to recover. For example, communicate in a respectful, professional manner and be intentional about making time for and cultivating family relationships. If family activities are not planned and protected the only thing the members of a family owned business will have in common will become the business.
Planning to learn together is a good first step. Taking vacations together is another way. And jointly planning your estates will help avoid surprises and build communication lines.
The Demoulas cousins are at a crossroad. Their private family feud has become a public debacle. Sadly (depending on your perspective), the ones who stand to gain from this ostentatious affair are the Demoulas’s competitors. So any attempt to rebuild the Market Basket brand – and regain employee and public trust – will take laser like focus by the two cousins.
One thing’s for sure, if they continue on the path they’re on, there’ll be a big mess to clean up on the grocery isle.