What is it about Market Basket and the Demoulas family?

Business Leader Post, August 5, 2014

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

Many people have been talking to me about the DeMoulas family, asking if they have called me, or suggesting that I should get involved.  Unfortunately, the DeMoulas family may be beyond help. The family has been in litigation and conflict since the early nineties. This family business fight has been going on for close to 23 years. It is a classic example of family conflict being acted out in the family business.

It is a mystery to most people why apparently wealthy people, who appear to have it all, will continue to fight and to take that fight to the brink of destroying a business which  has made two generations of the DeMoulas family wealthy.  They are killing the Golden Goose.

It is extremely sad to see two generations of the family and probably three (unless this generation can solve its problems) being destroyed.   I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the DeMoulas family, who emigrated from Greece with its proud tradition of family first, would characterize today’s problems with Market Basket as its own Greek tragedy.  I am sure that the grandparents of Arthur T. and Arthur S. are turning over in their graves, and that they would have chosen to close their original store versus selling it to two of their sons if they knew what was going to happen as a result of their sons’ success.

The irony is that it is the closeness and the values of the family that is driving the problems. Family is sacred. When a family member commits an act that another family member experiences as betrayal, the emotions/rage that one experiences can get out of control. Feelings are not rational, and feelings of family are driving the situation.  Consequently,  rational means of solving the problem-- attorneys, boards of directors, the courts, etc. -- are helpless in the face of powerful family dynamics.  At the same time that the family is falling apart, the inherent and powerful subconscious need and sense of connection does not let them separate. Consequently, the only way that they can stay connected is through conflict.