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Shirley Leung

A simple ‘sorry’ could solve Market Basket feud

Q. Dear Shirley:

I treat everyone like family. Everyone thinks I’m great, well, except for my cousin, Arthur S. It hurts my feelings that we can’t get along. We’ve been fighting in court. A judge found that my dad siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars from Arthur S. and his family. Then there’s some real estate deals that we disagree about. Even worse, we own a company together, and I’m trying to buy him out. I don’t really want to talk about what we do — because it’s really nobody’s business — but let’s just say we’re in mostly dry goods. I know my cousin wants out, but he won’t sell to me. What can I do to change his mind?

“Good Arthur,” Tewksbury

A. Well, Arthur, that’s quite a problem you have. This is why you shouldn’t ever go into business with family. I can see why your cousin is so angry. How can he ever trust you again?

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You need to say “I’m sorry” and mean it.
As Elton John sang, “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.”

The good news is that apologizing is in vogue. Everyone’s doing it, from politicians to pro athletes to reality TV stars. You’d be in good — pardon the pun — company.

RELATED: Constant challenges, no certainties for new CEOs at Market Basket

It can go something like this: “I’m sorry, Arthur. Neither of us is the bad guy. We shouldn’t let money tear us apart, especially since we’re rolling in it. Family should come first.”

You may not be able to readily admit this, but you and your cousin have much in common, and that’s critical to getting him to yes.

For starters, both of you must know you can no longer work together. There are irreconcilable differences here, and you must go through a divorce. (Or, as Gwyneth Paltrow would say, a conscious uncoupling.)

I would hope you also share another common goal: saving the family business and preserving thousands of jobs. If that doesn’t unite you, well, then neither of you deserve to be business owners.

I don’t want to be presumptuous, but your situation reminds me a lot of what is happening at Market Basket. Workers there are protesting the ouster of a popular leader and customers are boycotting in solidarity until his return. The family-run company has been bleeding tens of millions of dollars while relatives feud over its future. Privileged multi-millionaires are willing to destroy a century-old company, as their employees worry about their next paycheck and customers get cheated out of low-priced groceries. I’m sure you can imagine.

RELATED: Thousands gather at Market Basket rally

Now, I’m not suggesting you and your cousin become BFFs — that is unlikely to ever happen — but you need to play nice just long enough to get a deal done. That’s not asking too much. In fact, it sounds pretty simple — one side of the family sells all of its shares to the other, or you both cash out and sell the company to someone else. Time to get it together and quit embarrassing yourselves.

Q. Dear Shirley:

This is a time-sensitive problem so I hope you can respond quickly. I hate my cousin. His family wronged mine, but I’m made out to be the bad guy. He now has asked for a favor and wants to me to give up my shares in the family business. He’s got everyone all over me to do this, but I can’t bring myself to forgive him for what he’s done. Help!?!

“Bad Arthur,” Boston

A. Kudos to you for recognizing that’s what needs to happen. This is a bread-and-butter issue that has reached its sell-by date. Forgiving is not going to be easy, but it’s the right thing to do.

There’s tension because both of you are being defensive about your situation. Lashing out at each other will only make matters worse. Stop before this escalates into a full-scale food fight.

I asked Lisa J.B. Peterson, a financial planner who works with couples going through money problems, to weigh in. “It’s almost like it’s turned into this childish thing, both holding onto what they each really want,” she said.

Forgiveness will come if you can give each other an olive branch. Otherwise your situation isn’t going to change. It’s just going to feel like a bunch of spoiled rich kids fighting over the past.

Readers, what do you think? Should Bad Arthur forgive his bad cousin? What is the best way for bygones to be bygones?

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.
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