By Maria Saporta
What a fitting story for Labor Day.
Employees of the Market Basket grocery store chain in New England had walked off their jobs for six weeks because they wanted to work for the company’s fired CEO, not his not-so-liked cousin, who had won a family rivalry over who would be in charge.
The stand-off ended Aug. 28 when Arthur T. Demoulas announced he had been able to buy a majority of the company and would be reinstated as CEO. The response from the employees was nothing short of jubilation.
It made me pause. Which CEOs in Atlanta would employees be willing to fight for – be willing to put everything at risk – because they believed in that person’s leadership?
Sadly, the inspiring news of Market Basket’s relationship between management and labor was happening simultaneously as the news that Time Warner/Turner Broadcasting would be cutting back up to 1,500 jobs at CNN and the amazing array of Turner’s entertainment channels — TNT, TBS, TCM, the Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and so on.
Yes, there was a time when the bond between Turner Broadcasting System’s employees and notorious founder Ted Turner may have been as powerful and invigorating as that of Market Basket and Arthur T. Demoulas.
You see, Ted Turner believed in the magic he was creating, and he was able to get others to not only believe in the magic, but also put their hearts and souls into creating more magic.
The worst thing one could say to Ted Turner was that it couldn’t be done – that he couldn’t establish a credible 24-hour news channel., that he couldn’t launch a serious news operation out of Atlanta, that he couldn’t take on the major New York-based or Washington, D.C.-based entertainment companies, and that he couldn’t do his part to change the world from the penthouse offices of CNN Center.
But Turner defied gravity and beat the odds. He did it because he believed in the product. News was sacrosanct. Opening up lines of communication between arch enemies was the only way to turn them into friends.
And as Turner built his media tentacles, he also reinforced his relationships with the people who worked for him. Yes, he let environmentalists have a voice through his channels. Yes, he made sure there were documentaries about topics he felt were important to the world.
And yes, he felt it was to his advantage – the company’s advantage to make Atlanta the launching pad for strongly-held values and inner-business sense.
As Ted Turner recently said, if he still owned the Atlanta Braves, they would not be moving to Cobb County. They would be staying at Turner Field. We have every reason to believe him because when his folks were telling him he needed to move the Atlanta Hawks to the suburbs, he said he would not leave downtown.
That’s what makes the news of the last few days – that Turner Broadcasting will be having all these layoffs – so disheartening.
The decision to slash and burn the news and entertainment operations in Atlanta are being made by faceless executives who are based in New York – executives who have only given hypocritical lip service to the importance that Atlanta will play in the company‘s future.
They only seem interested in playing defense, be it against a Rupert Murdoch or against an unseen Wall Street fear of being taken over or an even greater fear that they are being left behind in the changing media landscape of news and entertainment.
They are a far cry from Ted Turner who look into the future and see how to position his channels for the next generation of audiences and communications.
If only we could find a new owner for Turner Broadcasting – a new Ted Turner – someone who really cared about its news and entertainment channels, someone who really cared about its employees, someone who really cared about Atlanta, someone who had a soul – someone like Arthur T. Demoulas.
When he won the battle be reinstated as CEO of Market Basket, Arthur T. Demoulas addressed the employees who had put their jobs on the line for him:
“You are simply the best,” he told hundreds of workers as he stood on the back of a pick-up truck. “As I stand before you, I am in awe of what you’ve all accomplished. It is an example you have all set for so many people across the region and across the country. There is very little I can ever add to your brilliant work, your extraordinary display of loyalty and the power of your enduring human spirit over the past six weeks.”
Now those are the inspiring words we want to hear from a CEO on Labor Day. And they are made only that much more inspiring because we hear them so rarely these days.
Where are the Ted Turners of today when we really need them?