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The final word on Market Basket’s meltdown

The final word on Market Basket’s meltdown

It seems the immediate crisis has passed at Market Basket, and that’s a very good thing.

The riveting six-week saga spawned hundreds of articles, blog posts and other commentary about this New England retailer that dissected developments from all angles and offered lessons learned.

Is there anything more to say?

Just this. We need to capture the best takeaways and create something positive for the entire industry from these unprecedented events.

Market Basket began life almost a hundred years ago as a Massachusetts food store. Many decades later it became a regional fixture with a popular following.

But there was also a long-running feud in this family-owned company that reached a boiling point this summer after a popular president’s firing. Employees protested the ouster and stopped working. Customer service imploded along with empty shelves. Management got tough. Even the government became involved. Market Basket was a company in crisis.

Now the former president, Arthur T. Demoulas, has returned and along with his siblings is purchasing the remaining part of the company he doesn’t already own, bringing a new sense of stability.

Can we find something positive for the entire industry from these remarkable events? My recommendation: Let’s create Market Basket — the University Course.

There’s an unlimited amount of content to study.

There are spot-on perspectives, such as this one from Neil Stern, senior partner, McMillanDoolittle, who recently summed up the Market Basket situation in an IdeaXchange blog post for SN:

It is clear that this boardroom drama horribly miscalculated the impact that this would have on the enterprise.

There are expert opinions from observers in a variety of fields, such as this one from a PR and marketing professional published on the boston.com website:

When you're about to fire a leader viewed by thousands as a deity, and then install new CEOs with a history of either selling, breaking apart, or tanking companies, have your PR firm already hired! This is not something you want to be scrambling around to do at the last minute.

Even if we just absorb 5% of lessons cited by countless observers, the industry will be far better off than before.

So what are some of these top takeaways for the syllabus?

My picks would include the need to set companies on more sustainable footings and exhaust all options before unleashing a crisis. Listen to employees. Consider the needs of all stakeholders. Avoid excessive infighting in the executive ranks. Recognize how quickly a brand and its customer proposition can be damaged. Understand the economic impact on a community and region when a business implodes. Give more thought to communications and PR in emergencies. And lots more.


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Where should this course be given? Maybe someone should open a Market Basket U. More practically, the lessons should be disseminated at the great food retail university programs across this country. And let’s extend it to all business schools in the U.S. and abroad, because the topic has wide implications for management, employee relations, disaster planning and lots of other business studies. Remember all the attention paid to Occupy Wall Street? Well, the Market Basket drama evokes that theme as well.

Are supermarket chains across the nation likely to run into Market Basket-type scenarios any time soon? Probably not. But that misses the point. Even the best-run companies need takeaways on how to fine-tune their strategies to steer clear of problems.

Finally, how many credits should a Market Basket course award? Look at it this way. This is a chance to study a real-life, worst-case business scenario to avoid disaster and help promote positive business strategies.

Credits? That’s a minor consideration when the lessons are so invaluable.

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