How to get away with murder

viola-davis-image
Viola Davis

Note: Since this was posted, The Boston Globe is reporting that the parent company of Hannaford is bidding for Market Basket. Are they trying to buy themselves into the boycott?

If corporations are people, perhaps Professor Annalise Keating has been consulting with some miscreant in the assault on Market Basket. The good professor, played by Viola Davis, is the lead character in the new TV series, How to Get Away with Murder.

We are watching the crime right before our eyes. The stores are on life support. No produce. No customers, except for the few who venture in to get a box of corn flakes or a can of tuna.

I am sure that Professor Keating could talk about motive and opportunity, which all seem to point to Arthur S. and his family’s 51% share of the corporate votes. Plenty of opportunity, and the intra-family animosity would seem to provide significant motive for a crime of this nature.

The evidence also suggests that Arthur S. and his side of the family wants to sell the chain, and they don’t want Artie T. to be the successful buyer.

Market Basket may have been an attractive takeover target a couple of weeks ago, but that’s not the case when customers are entrenched in a boycott unless Artie T. prevails in the current dispute. Not very attractive if Piggly Wiggly wants to expand into New England, because your entire local operation would be a collection of stores that nobody will want to visit.

The customer abandonment of Market Basket brings joy to the owners of Hannaford’s, Stop & Shop, and Shaws. They are probably praying for this dispute to linger into eternity. Might even be worth a billion or two to buy the chain and kill it off. A couple of weeks ago, this may have been a good strategy for one of the competitors, but every day customers are becoming more stubborn supporters of Artie T and the Market Basket workers.  A complicated buyout might have flown under the radar, but if an active competitor buys Market Basket, that competitor would also become a target of the boycott. Thus, we have this interesting triangle in which:

  • Hannaford would be thrilled to see Stop & Shop or Shaws publicly buying Market Basket, with the boycott expanding to their stores.
  • Stop & Shop would be thrilled to see Hannaford or Shaws publicly buying Market Basket, with the boycott expanding to their stores.
  • Shaws would be thrilled to see Stop & Shop or Hannaford publicly buying Market Basket, with the boycott expanding to their stores.

If a mysterious buyer appears and wins Market Basket, one would need to wonder who is behind a Blissful Supermarket Trust, why they would want to buy Market Basket, and why a majority of the board would rather put it in the hands of this outside party instead of a group headed by Arthur T.

Clearly, with the customer boycott in full force and former Radio Shack CEO Jim Gooch at the helm, Market Basket’s death under new ownership could be quicker than an Oklahoma execution. Why would an outside bidder come in to kill Market Basket, and why would the Board of Directors push the chain into a rapid and painful death? We will probably need Professor Annalise Keating to supervise the autopsy and unravel all the details of the crime. Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to that.

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