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After shakeup at the top, Market Basket says discount, profit-sharing will remain

Union Leader Correspondent
New Hampshire Union Leader

June 24. 2014 8:07PM

The boardroom brawl that led to the ousting of Market Basket’s CEO won’t mean the elimination of employee profit-sharing or the 4 percent discount given on most items found on store shelves.

“The 4 percent discount will continue as advertised,” sources close to the company told the Union Leader in an e-mail Tuesday. “Employee profit sharing will continue as an important part of Market Basket’s culture and commitment to associates.”

Company officials confirmed late Monday that Arthur T. Demoulas, had been fired that day, along with Bill Marsden, director of operations, and Joe Rockwell, vice president of grocery sales and merchandising.

It’s been a year since board members aligned with the CEO’s cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, to gain control of the company, which operates 29 stores in New Hampshire. On Monday, the board named Felicia Thornton and James Gooch as the chain’s senior managers.

Market Basket plans no job cuts, sources close to the company said.

On Tuesday afternoon, Dean Clevesy, assistant store manager at the Stratham store, said Monday’s announcement left him and his workers with plenty of unanswered questions.

“There’s definitely some anxiety here today,” Clevesy said. “Basically, the worst part is us not knowing what’s going to happen next. But in the meantime, we still have to come in and do our jobs as usual.”

Amherst resident Susan Miller said she’s worked in the Nashua store since 1996 and that the news has left her afraid of what the future may hold.

“I love my job and have never missed a day of work, never called in sick,” Miller said. “Now I’m scared about what might happen next.”

She said many of her coworkers attended a rally at the Chelsea, Mass., store on Tuesday afternoon and that she was disappointed she couldn’t attend because she was scheduled to work.

Miller said ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas was known for treating his employees fairly and that there’s a general air of concern over the direction the company is taking.

“They’re trying to make Market Basket a Fortune 500 company, but it’s not,” Miller said. “This is a mom-and-pop grocery store and always has been. We’ve all worked here a long time, and we’re all a family. And right now we’re like little kids in the middle of a custody battle.”

In December, that “mom and pop” was ranked the 127th largest privately held company in the country by Forbes, which tallied Market Basket’s annual revenue at $3.55 billion. Other published estimates place that number in excess of $4 billion annually.

David J. Livingston, a national consultant to the supermarket industry, said “time will tell” whether prices will rise in a supermarket chain with “two very different philosophies about business.”

“The Demoulas group is very successful,” he said of the privately held company, which doesn’t release publicly its profit and revenue numbers.

“I think because they’re privately held, they have been able to make long-term decisions that are a benefit to the customer,” rather than only worry about the next quarter results for stockholders, Livingston said.

Last September, a Suffolk County Superior Court judge in Massachusetts cleared the way for a $300 million payout to Market Basket shareholders, a move that Arthur T. Demoulas said would deplete 60 percent of the chain’s available cash and would forever change how the company operated.

“It’s a family dispute that will never end,” former Market Basket worker James Annis said.

“Current employees should be very concerned now,” the Amherst resident said. “Should the new team decide to cut or scale back on profit sharing and bonuses, they will be losing a major part of their compensation.”

Former Windham resident Angela Flanagan, who worked at a Market Basket during her teenage years, said the company’s family disputes have been long known among employees, as was the kind demeanor of the ousted CEO.

“This is a CEO that grew and expanded the company in the worst recession most people have ever lived through and posted record profits,” Flanagan said. “He was loved and respected by his workers and has a reputation of treating them well.”

The company early this year began a 4 percent discount, which runs until Dec. 27, that applies to everything except beer, wine, cigarettes, milk, town trash bags, lottery tickets, postage stamps and gift cards. No loyalty card or minimum purchase is required.

Outside the Hudson store on Tuesday, the parking lot was crowded as usual. Few of the customers loading up groceries were aware of Monday’s firings.

Upon hearing of the executive cuts, local resident Tom Marcoux, who said he regularly shops at the Hudson Market Basket, said he hoped the changes would bring about positive tidings for consumers.

“Does this mean the prices might drop some more?” he said. “I would think that when you fire three of the top people like that, the company might be saving some money there, right?”

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