The Transcripts From Market Basket Board Meetings Read Like Outtakes From The Godfather

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Aug. 15 2014 2:17 PM

The Transcripts From Market Basket Board Meetings Read Like Outtakes From The Godfather

140815_$BOX_MarketBasketRally
People rally in support of Arthur T. Demoulas, the ousted CEO of Market Basket.

Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Boston's ongoing Market Basket saga has all the elements of a Hollywood drama: A beloved but ousted CEO, decades of family infighting, and of course billions of dollars at stake. The affordable-grocery chain has faced strikes and demonstrations ever since former chief executive Arthur T. Demoulas was forced out in June by a board controlled by his rival and almost identically named cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas. Earlier this week, the company issued a final warning to protesting employees that they had until Friday to return to work or would lose their jobs.

In case the Market Basket story needed to get any more cinematic, the Boston Globe has unearthed transcripts of Market Basket board meetings held over the past decade that highlight the tensions within the company and between its warring family members—and at times sound like a real-life enactment of scenes from The Godfather. The heated exchanges get off to a good start in June 2003 as the board quibbles over how to improve the contentious tone of board meetings. This back-and-forth is between former chairman Bill Shea (a representative of Arthur T. Demoulas) and Arthur S. Demoulas:

Mr. Shea: Then I'm going to challenge you not to interrupt other people.
Mr. Demoulas: Oh, well, you do that.
Mr. Shea: How about that?
Mr. Demoulas: You do that. That's very nice of you.
Mr. Shea: Huh?
Mr. Demoulas: Yes.
Mr. Shea: The first time you interrupted today—
Mr. Demoulas: I'm so threatened by you, pointing your finger at me.
Mr. Shea: The first time you interrupt today—
Mr. Demoulas: What are you going to do?
Mr. Shea: —you're going to hear the same thing.
Mr. Demoulas: Oh, is that right?
Mr. Shea: That's right.
Mr. Demoulas: Oh, well—
Mr. Shea: Or we'll adjoin the meeting.
Mr. Demoulas: See, you're already threatening me.
Mr. Shea: I'm not threatening you. You threatened me.
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In October 2011, a debate about shareholder distributions prompts this exchange between then-independent director Nabil El-Hage, Shea, and Arthur T. Demoulas:

Mr. Demoulas: Now, to a restriction on how we wheel and deal out there, I do not know of any restriction that’s out there; and I do not care to have any restrictions, quite frankly.
Mr. El-Hage: You're not Catholic, are you, Arthur?
Chairman Shea: No. Is anybody anymore?
Mr. El-Hage: That's a serious question. You're Greek, so you practice Greek Orthodox.
Mr. Demoulas: Right.
Mr. El-Hage: That explains it, because in my religion only the Pope is infallible. So I really think as a matter of prudent business practices, anybody, no matter how good you are—and you are good—wouldn't be hurt by consulting with your board when it comes to that kind of money. That's a lot of money.

And finally in August 2012, a discussion of placing spending limits on "godfather" Arthur T. Demoulas yielded these comments from the former chief executive. For the best effect, we suggest replacing the words "company" and "management" with "family" as you go:

Mr. Demoulas: I'm here as a business person, trying to run a business, and do it as simply, as efficiently, and as sensibly as possible. If I wanted to be a director, I'd be sitting in one of those B director seats. It doesn't excite me. I enjoy what I'm doing. What I do is I run a business, and I've been doing it for a long time. We've got a family operation here. And you want to move things along without going through a lot of unnecessary discussions and opinions and viewpoints when at the end of the day, at the end of the day, I'm going to make the decision. Now, if you're telling me you want to come down here—if you're telling me you want to come down here to inform you of what has been done or what we have committed to, I've been doing that right along.
Mr. El-Hage: Understood.
Mr. Demoulas: If you're telling me that you want me or Don or the other members of management to come down here to indicate to you at some midstream place to look for your approval on either structure or whether it's a go or a no-go, I think that is a problem. I think it's a problem for the company. I think it is not in the best interests of Demoulas Super Markets, Inc. I think it's not in the best interests of Arthur T. negotiating. And I don't think that's where the responsibility should lie.

Alison Griswold is a Slate staff writer covering business and economics.

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