After 46 years building his grocery store into a successful three-store chain, 70-year-old Joe Lueken of Bemidji, Minnesota is ready to retire. What to do with the stores? He could have sold them, but he already had plenty of money. He has four sons, but they have other careers away from Minnesota.
Lueken said he had multiple offers to sell to large independent chains and might have gotten more money that way. But he and his family believe that selling to workers will be better for them, the business and this north-central Minnesota city of 13,000 people.
"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."
Employees say Lueken's decision, which won't require them to pay anything for their shares in the business, multiplied the high esteem they already held for their boss.
"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."
(Image source: Leukens Facebook page)