Joe Lueken is the kind of boss I wish more Americans could work for.

"My employees are largely responsible for any success I've had, and they deserve to get some of the benefits of that," Lueken said earlier this week. "You can't always take. You also have to give back."
The Star Tribune had a story about Lueken, 70, of Bemidji, Minnesota yesterday, "A thankful Bemidji grocer shares his success with his employees". For the past 46 years, Lueken has been a successful grocer and come January 1st, he is transferring ownership of his three supermarkets to his nearly 400 employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Program.

Despite many offers to sell out to grocery store chains, Lueken and his family think transferring ownership of Lueken's Village Foods to his employees at no cost to them is better for the community.

Employee-ownership at Lueken’s means increased opportunity for employee-owners, their families, and continued support of our community. When profits stay local, everyone wins.

Lueken's son, Jeff, told the Bemidji Pioneer in "Lueken’s to become employee-owned" that if the family had sold to an outside group, then the local community would lose the management jobs. When the company becomes 100 percent employee-owned in about five years time, it will benefit the community since the jobs will stay put.  

"The larger benefactor is the community," he said. He further explained the family's thinking to the Star Tribune:

"We could have hired a gunslinger from Minneapolis, but that didn't sit well because the reward wouldn't go to the proper people," said son Jeff…

"The whole move revolves around people, not things or money," Jeff Lueken said. "It's about allowing people to grow with the business and send their kids to college and have a great retirement, and even to express themselves at work."

Lueken's employees will get shares at no cost to them based on length of service and salary. When someone leaves or retires, the current employees are obligated to repurchases his or her shares. The shares' value will grow with the company.
"He's rockin' awesome," said Svare, 41, who started at Lueken's in 2009 and worked up to front-end manager.

"He chose to protect his people," she said. "Being owners will make us care more about our work. It gives you something to call your own and gives you a more comfortable retirement to look forward to."

Joe Lueken will be looking forward to his semi-retirement too, according to the Pioneer, spending time traveling and being with his family who now all live outside of Minnesota.

Lueken told the Star Tribune:

"The grocery business gets in your blood," he said. "You have to think fast and move fast. You try your best to please every customer. Being around them and the employees, it does something special for you."

He operated by a simple philosophy, which he traces to his parents: "Do the right thing."

Words to do business by from a true job creator and community builder.


Originally posted to Magnifico on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 10:07 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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