The dueling Demoulas brothers remind me of nothing so much as the hot new Fox dramatic series called Tyrant. Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed, the son of a corrupt and murderous Middle Eastern dictator/president (pick your model), has fled to the United States to become a pediatrician. Married with two children, he is the “good” son, who returns after 20 years to visit his family . The “bad” son is the brutal Jamal, who, upon his father’s death, takes over the make-believe country of Abbudin, apparently intent on carrying on his father’s ways.
The “bad” brother, Jamal, rapes, steals, jails and kills his critics, but underneath it all we learn he has a soft spot; he really wants to turn his back on the presidency and flee with his mistress to the white sandy beaches of the Maldives . The “good son,” recognizing that the “bad” son is disastrous for the people of Abbudin, determines to overthrow him and, in the process, resorts to methods that reveal his own inner tyrant.
Today’s excellent reporting on Market Basket’s Demoulas brothers by Shirley Leung (“bad” brother Arthur S. “shows generosity and resolve”) and Callum Borchers (“good” brother Arthur T’s “personal touch can cut both ways”) is a page out of the Tyrant playbook. The Demoulas scions are cousins, not brothers, but the message is the same: the “good” Arthur can also be cutting and nasty; the “bad” Arthur can also be generous and thoughtful. Set aside the spin. This is not a Manichean struggle of pure good versus pure evil. They are both flawed human beings, with much dramatic and emotional family baggage.
What seems to differentiate the two is that Arthur S. wants the profits largely to benefit the shareholders and Arthur T. wants to share the profits with Market Basket employees and customers (through lower prices.) It is that philosophy, along with his own talent for interpersonal relations, that endears him to the employees of Market Basket. The saga over the past month, as employees and customers stand behind Arthur T, is nothing short of epic. And all this solidarity without a union!
Now, sadly, the brothers’ obstinacy threatens to bring down the whole Demoulas empire. Governor Deval Patrick and New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan, properly reluctant from the outset, to interfere in the business of a private company, have recently been trying to bring about some resolution. It may be too late. The once $4.6 billion company is hemorrhaging millions every day. Employees, many still protesting, are desperate for income. Organizers have set up a website to raise money to help out hard-hit employees. Suppliers have been left finding new outlets for their produce. Customers depending on Market Basket’s low prices to get by are having go elsewhere and pay higher prices. Ill will is growing throughout the marketplace, and there’s a very damaging impact on the regional economy.
Arthur T. wants to buy out Arthur S., return to his CEO position and end the stand-off. Arthur S. is said to be considering other offers, including one from the Delhaize holding company that owns Hannaford’s. But combining Market Basket and Hannaford’s could raise a host of anti-trust considerations, according to news analysis. Public sentiment seems to be with Arthur T. and the employees because most like to see the little guys (along with rich Arthur T) prevail.
Somewhere, I am convinced, a screenwriter has already started on a script to capture the nearly century-long story of the Demoulas family, the rise from poor immigrants to small market owners, to successful supermarket owners, to empire chieftain. It will be a tale of family rivalries, betrayals, battles for wealth and control. The script will chronicle how it is the “little people” who are hurt from the epic and prideful battles over money and power.
What we don’t know yet is whether the key players survive, and whether there will be justice and redemption. Or do they all fall on the battlefield, victims of their own greed, pride and blind stubbornness. Tune in next week.
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