Moral Low Ground


‘The Moral High Ground’: Minnesota Grocer Joe Lueken Giving His Company to Employees

(Photo: Lueken’s Village Foods)

In what is being hailed as a real-life “It’s a Wonderful Life” story, a retiring Minnesota grocer has decided to give away his three-store company to his 400 employees.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that 70-year-old Joe Lueken, who has spent the last 46 years building Lueken’s Village Foods into a successful enterprise, is ready to sell the business. Lueken has received multiple offers from large supermarket chains but instead decided to do something extraordinary for his employees– he’s literally giving away the store to his workers. Three stores, to be exact; two in Bemidji, Minnesota and one in Wahpeton, North Dakota.

“My employees are largely responsible for any success I’ve had, and they deserve to get some of the benefits of that,” Lueken told the Star-Tribune. “You can’t always take. You also have to give back.”

In January, Lueken and his family will begin the process of transferring ownership of the company to the employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP). Each worker will receive stock shares based on their pay and years of employment at the store.

Brent Sicard, who started working as a night janitor at a Village Foods store in 1998, will become the company’s CEO.

Sicard told ABC News that Lueken was a selfless boss who has “always put money back into the business.”

“There were years when his managers made more than he did, everything considered,” Sicard, who has worked his way up to manager, said.

Other employees hailed Lueken’s decision to give them the company.

“He’s rockin’ awesome,” 41-year-old Maria Svare, who has worked at the store for two and a half years, told the Star-Tribune. “He chose to protect his people. Being owners will make us care more about our work. It gives us something to call your own and gives you a more comfortable retirement to look forward to.”

Lueken told ABC News that his decision “wasn’t just the best option, it was the only option.” He said the move was best for Bemidji, a town of 13,000 in the remote northern part of the state.

Lueken said that he looked forward to traveling around the United States and spending time with his wife and grandchildren after he retires.

This isn’t the first time that ownership of a company has been gifted to its employees. Two years ago, Bob Moore gave his Oregon grocery store to his employees, also through an ESOP.

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  1. Reachwell ChikwatureDecember 2, 2012 at 10:07 pmReply

    This is really amazing and generous of Joe lueken,may the lord up and above kindly bless him.Not most of people are willing to do like he did ,he is a true gentleman.How can l get in touch with him,we might also try to ask for hel at an Orphanage here in Zimbabwe that l pioneered

  2. AMay 12, 2016 at 7:30 amReply

    I worked for Luekens for years. I loved working for Joe. It was sad when he died, but we had no idea how bad things we’re going to get. Before his dad was even buried his son Jeff took away one break from everyone. Then Jeff removed the good insurance we had for years and replaced it with a high-deductible catastrophic plan. Next he axed our beloved CEO and brought in someone from out of state. Then the firings began. The pattern was quickly recognizable. All the people who made anything approaching a living wage we’re fired one after another. Then he fired the best worker at our store (our head of HR) for disagreeing with these corporate tactics. He fired most of the great management Joe had cultivated for years and replaced them with people who we’re abrasive and to young to know what they we’re doing, all to create a Wal-Martesque turnover so he never has to pay a fair wage. As of now, the employees still own squat 4 years on. I own a business myself, and I didn’t have to take this crap from a spoiled little rich boy, so I quit. Not only did I quit, for a half an hour I told upper management how they we’re driving this company into the dirt. They know I’m a businessman myself, and the look in their eyes said they knew I was right. Now word has gotten around our small community, and people are shopping elsewhere. Just thought you would like some first hand truth…

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