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Market Basket mulls ex-CEO's buyout offer as employees rally

TEWKSBURY Mass. (Reuters) - Family-owned New England supermarket chain Market Basket said on Friday it will "seriously consider" a buyout offer from its ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, as thousands of people rallied near the company's headquarters for the executive's return.

Demoulas was fired by the board of directors in June after a power struggle with his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas, triggering a rare revolt by employees who hailed his worker-friendly policies. The Demoulas family founded Market Basket in 1962.

"The Board will evaluate and seriously consider this proposal, along with any other offers previously received and to be received," according to a statement from the board of Demoulas Supermarkets, which owns the Market Basket chain.

"It is now clear that it is in the interests of all members of the Market Basket community for normal business operations to resume immediately," it added.

Arthur T. announced on Thursday that his side of the family had offered to purchase the 55 percent of the company it did not current own, but did not detail the offer.

Market Basket, based in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, is one of New England's leading privately-held supermarkets with some $3.55 billion in revenue from its more than 70 stores around the region. It competes with New England chains like Hannaford Brothers, Shaw's, and Stop & Shop.

But the Demoulas family feud has put the company's operations in disarray. Work stoppages and a boycott call by angry employees - who say Arthur T. provided good wages and benefits - have led to empty shelves in some stores.

Thousands of people, including many Market Basket employees, rallied in a parking lot near the company's headquarters on Friday, holding placards reading "Down with greed, support Arthur T." and "Arthur T. is our CEO." A plane flew overhead dragging a banner reading "Artie T. Save M.B. - Buy Them Out!"

"Our only demand is the return of Arthur T. and the leaders who were wrongfully terminated," Michael Maguire, director of produce for Market Basket, said at the rally, which responded in a torrent of cheers.

Zeynep Ton, an adjunct professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, said the outpouring of support from workers for an ex-top executive was very rare. "I have never seen this kind of support for an executive," she said.

After Arthur T.'s firing, former Radio Shack executive James Gooch and ex-Albertsons executive Felicia Thornton became co-CEOs of Market Basket. The new management has said it plans no immediate changes to the company's worker policies.

The family feud began decades ago over allegations by Arthur S.' side of the family that Arthur T.'s father had stolen ownership shares by setting up shell companies. A judge sided with Arthur S.'s family in 1994, giving it a 51 percent share.

Despite family tensions, Arthur T. became head of the company in 2008. The board shifted in Arthur S.'s favor in 2013, however, after two members were replaced.

(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis and Elizabeth Barber; Editing by Bill Trott and Nick Zieminski)

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