How many of would risk your job for the CEO of your company? Would you join a picket line for six weeks with no pay demanding the reinstatement of the CEO of your company? Let’s say you’re a long-term customer of the company would you support the employees in their protest? What would be your motivation to support the employees of this company if you can find what you need elsewhere?

Under normal circumstances most employees and customers pay little attention to the firing of a company CEO. From an employee standpoint many see it as part of their company’s business cycle, CEO’s come and go so to speak. Customers have a similar view, unless they have stock in the company then they wonder how it will affect the stock price with the firing of the CEO. Neither will worry about the CEO welfare as they both believe he’ll be fine financially. So the concept of both employee and customer joining forces and protesting the firing of a CEO by walking off the job and boycotting, well, it’s unheard of until now. Enter Arthur T. Demoulas recently fired by his board of directors, and now six weeks later, the reinstated CEO and now majority owner of Market Basket. A position he regained with the help of both loyal employees and customers. A level of loyalty and support CEO’s can only dream about that is if the do dream.

Adam Vaccaro of the Boston.com provides a good account of what took place. However, that’s not the focus of this post. My focus is on the embodiment of what we consultants often talk about when it comes to leadership and customer loyalty. Let’s start with discussing Artie T (as he’s called by his loyal employees) leadership style.

Leadership:

Warren Bennis said “managers do things right leaders do the right thing.” Artie T realized the right thing to do was take care of his people and everything else would follow. He did this by developing a culture that allowed employees to be successful and rewarded them accordingly. He understood that profit came not because of him, but from the hard work of his employees. As the company and profits grew he paid well and provided good benefits. He followed threw on items he said he would. He established a foundation of trust among the employees. It resulted in employees truly believing they “were the most valuable asset” something often said by management but not necessarily believed by those who say it and those who hear it.

At Market Basket both the employees and the customers are important. In an interview Artie T told the reporter that they were in the people business first and the food business second. Now that’s someone who has his eye on what is important.

If your employees feel they are just the proverbial cog in the wheel, it will reflect on how they interact with your customers. Think Comcast and the now famous viral recording of a customer trying to disconnect his service.

Focus and Employee Development Leads to Customer Loyalty :

Ralph C. Stayer CEO of Johnsonville foods in his book Flight of the Buffalo, asked this question, “is every person in your company focused on delivering great performance for his/her customers? Focused and motivated employees will delight their customers. For six weeks Market Basket customers boycotted the stores in their areas. They refuse to shop at their favorite store until the reinstatement of Artie T as CEO. That’s customer loyalty.

It came about because he made sure his employees were focused on delighting their customers. He did this by asking this question, “is the person becoming more capable?” meaning is the employee receiving the training and development they that will allow them to grow? Having a promote from within philosophy with emphasis on continuous learning doesn’t hurt either.

All this leads to retention of top talent, a loyal customer base.Things he clearly understood, and so did his employees and Market Basket customers. That’s why both employees and customers took the action they did and it paid off.

We appreciate being treated respectfully when we’re about to spend our hard earn money. As customers we have numerous choices and we won’t patronize businesses who don’t understand this. The employees of Market Basket understood this, that’s why they greet every customer in a sincere and friendly way. As a friend told me shopping at a Market Basket reminded him of the local neighborhood grocery store before they all became chains. He also said he noticed it was like a local meeting place when people and employees engaged in friendly conversation because they knew each other.

So when the employees went out on strike to get their leader back so did their customers. Which is something unheard of and will make for some very interesting business case studies. Yes this clearly one for the business books.