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Business Lesson in Aisle 7

‘We Are Market Basket’ Co-authors Explore Supermarket Saga with Students, Community

We Are Market Basket

Manning School interim dean Scott Latham, center, chats with ‘We Are Market Basket’ co-authors Grant Welker, left, and Daniel Korschun during their recent Lunchtime Lecture at University Crossing.

10/28/2015
By Ed Brennen

Sophomore English major Justin Ordway says it’s “the most amazing thing I’ve ever been part of.” Manning School of Business interim dean Scott Latham calls it “the ultimate underdog story.” 

Even if you weren’t living in New England in the summer of 2014, you probably were aware of the Market Basket saga and the grassroots movement to bring back the $4 billion supermarket chain’s ousted CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas. The two-month standoff, which included employee walkouts, customer boycotts, empty shelves and parking lot rallies that looked more like street festivals, made national and international news.

And the outcome — the beloved Demoulas reaching a deal with shareholders in late August to buy back full control of the family company for $1.5 billion — was just the Hollywood ending that Market Basket’s 1.8 million customers and 25,000 employees were hoping for.

It also provided unprecedented business lessons that are explored in “We Are Market Basket,” a new book that is required reading this semester for all Manning School freshmen.

"The book was picked for a few reasons,” says Latham, whose first job in high school was as a bagger at the Demoulas (the chain’s alternate name) in his hometown of Billerica. “One, it is current and topical. This story dominated headlines for the whole summer. Two, it's familiar to the students. If I ask any class, ‘How many of you have worked at Market Basket?’ four or five hands will go up. And three, it illustrates the complexity of business — profit, people, customers, competitors and the changing environment. It’s all in there, in a great book.”

The book’s co-authors, Lowell Sun reporter Grant Welker and Drexel University Assoc. Prof. of Marketing Daniel Korschun, visited University Crossing to discuss the story with more than 100 community members and students as part of the Lunchtime Lecture series, co-sponsored by the Moses Greeley Parker Lectures and Office of Community Relations

Welker, who will also be visiting the Manning School in November to discuss the book with students, says he knew from the first “Save Artie T” rally he covered that this would be a case study used in business schools for years to come.

“I think it’s a great lesson for any business student, especially in this area,” Welker says. “Some of those students might run their own business someday, and they might remember what they read and learned about Market Basket. It can change the way they view how businesses can be run.”

Korschun, who is writing a case study about the Market Basket saga for Oxford University, calls it “the most dramatic example of corporate responsibility contributing to business performance that I’ve ever come across.” He says the story, which is also the subject of a new documentary film, has challenged some of his fundamental thoughts and beliefs about business — most notably that a board of directors’ primary fiduciary responsibility is to the shareholders.

“Guess what? It’s not true. It’s a myth,” Korschun says. “In fact, if you look at the corporate code in Massachusetts, it says the fiduciary responsibility of the board of directors is to the corporation — the employees, customers, shareholders, community, a whole list with no priority.

“That, to me, is a big lesson that more undergrads need to learn.”

Freshman business administration major Chahat Gupta hadn’t heard about the story last summer back in her home country of India, but now that she’s reading the book she’s hooked. 

“It’s amazing to learn about. I never thought this could happen,” says Gupta, who does her grocery shopping at the Market Basket in the Acre neighborhood. “I honestly wish I was here when it was happening.”

Ordway, the sophomore English major, was on the front lines during the showdown. He’s worked at the Market Basket (“Store 31”) in his hometown of Salem, N.H., for almost four years, and he was out there last summer holding signs and encouraging customers to boycott the chain.

“I really did believe from the very start that it was going to be successful,” says Ordway, who has written extensively about the experience in courses for his journalism concentration. “We had the vast majority of people on our side, so I think it was hard for us to lose.”