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The Boston Globe has a story about James Gooch and Felicia Thornton, the new co-CEOs of Market Basket, who find themselves in the middle of an epic battle between cousins representing two sides of the family that owns the company, and between the board of directors and employees almost fanatically loyal to the previous administration … while all the while trying to run a company that seems to have almost completely gone off the tracks.

As often noted here … The longtime family feud boiled over with the move by Arthur S. Demoulas, to oust CEO Arthur T. Demoulas due to a conflict over the company’s finances. The fight is characterized differently by the two sides. The Arthur S. Demoulas faction argues that Arthur T. Demoulas spends money irresponsibly and refuses to take direction from the board. The Arthur T. Demoulas side maintains that his cousin is fueled by greed, only interested in raising prices, cutting employee compensation, and threatening the formula that has built the company to a New England success story.

The new Globe reports that "Gooch and Thornton still have to figure out how to enforce a deadline they set for employees to get back on the job. While most full-time workers have continued to report for duty — protesting on their own time — hundreds of others have been staying away from the stores and ignored Monday’s deadline to return. Some are showing up for work, but openly encouraging customers to boycott Market Basket.

"Meanwhile, Gooch and Thornton’s positions appear just as unstable. Market Basket’s board of directors is mulling offers to purchase the majority shares controlled by Arthur S. Demoulas, Arthur T.’s cousin and rival. At any moment, the board could pull the trigger on a sale that almost certainly would mean pink slips for the executive tandem."

Whatever happens, Gooch and Thornton will be well-compensated for their efforts: "Two store-level managers who attended question-and-answer sessions with Gooch and Thornton shortly after the leadership change said they were open about having guaranteed contracts that will pay them for three years, no matter how long they survive. Chief executives at a company the size of Market Basket would typically command annual salaries of between $1 million and $3 million, said Clark Waterfall, managing director of BSG Team Ventures, an executive search firm in Boston."

There also have been questions raised by Market Basket employees about the co-CEOs' backgrounds:

"Gooch stepped down under board pressure as chief executive of Radio Shack in 2012 after failing to turn around the troubled electronics retailer," the Globe writes, while "Thornton cited personal reasons when she resigned in 2011 as chief executive of Knowledge Universe, a Portland, Ore., company that runs classroom and online courses from pre-K to graduate school … Thornton served as chief financial officer of supermarket operator Albertson’s between 2001 and 2006, a period when the grocery chain closed 165 stores and laid off about 20 percent of its managerial and administrative staff."
KC's View:
The tenor of many of the comments seems to be that Gooch and Thornton are hired guns with limited resumes who have little or no sense of the Market Basket culture … but to Arthur S. Demoulas and his supporters, that likely is seen as an advantage.

I will tell you this. Since Gooch and Thornton were named co-CEOs, I've gotten a lot of email attacking them as being incompetent and totally out of their depth at Market Basket. I haven't run the emails because they seemed so personal … but I think it's fair to report on them and characterize their content.

In other Market Basket news, BTW, the Boston Globe reports this morning that an unidentified supermarket company has made a bid to acquire the retailer.

"The bidder," the Globe writes, "whose identity was not revealed, would at most be able to buy only a slim majority interest of the grocery chain — the 50.5 percent that is owned by Arthur S. Demoulas — because Arthur T. and his side of the family have declined to sell their 49.5 percent.

"The unidentified potential buyer has expressed a willingness to acquire part or all of the 71 store chain, according to people briefed on the offer. In such a sale, an outside buyer would be forced to deal with Arthur T. and the thousands of employees who have rallied on his behalf in recent weeks."

It seems to me that it would be very interesting if an outside supermarket retailer bought Market Basket and instantly struck a deal with Arthur T. to get the company back on track … and, as part of the deal, tried to work out ways in which to export the value-driven format to other parts of the country. It would make very little sense to buy the company, absorb all the headaches and try to force-feed a resolution to an employee and consumer base that seems recalcitrant at best.

One other thing. An MNB reader passed along to me a piece from Slate that seemed to crystalize the divide between the two factions of the Demoulas family. The piece read, in part:

"An ugly legal battle raged last year in which Arthur S.’s side of the family, who control 50.5 percent of the company, tried to grab some $1.5 billion in payouts on top of the $500 million they’d made in the past decade … the generosity of Market Basket’s profit-sharing program particularly irked some board members. In one instance back in 2008, Arthur T. made sure the company made up for a loss of $46 million that the profit-sharing fund suffered during the economic crisis."

No wonder the employees feel so passionately. Arthur T.'s side of the family make them feel like assets, not costs … and people can respond passionately when they feel they have skin in the game.