Supermarket Owner Gives Away Stores to his 400 Employees

'Tis the season of giving, and a grocery-store owner is doing just that. Joe Lueken, who owns and manages two grocery stores in Bemidji, Minnesota, and one in Wahpeton, North Dakota, is retiring at age 70. Instead of selling his stores to the highest bidder, though, he will transfer ownership to the stores' 400 or so employees.

The employees will participate in an employee stock ownership program, receiving shares of Lueken's Village Foods based on length of service and salary -- and at no cost to them. The program to transfer ownership from the Lueken family to the employees will begin on January 1, 2013.

He explained his reason for turning over ownership to his employees: "My employees are largely responsible for any success I've had, and they deserve to get some of the benefits of that." He says he received a number of lucrative offers for his business, but he and his family realize what the supermarkets do for the community, and they believe this will be a better deal for them and the 13,000 residents of Bemidji. "You can't always take," Lueken says. "You also have to give back."

In his retirement, he and his wife, Janice, want to travel, and they hope to leave a lasting legacy. Lueken stresses the importance of "doing the right thing" for people, empowering them to help themselves and others.

Lueken will be leaving his employees in trusted hands: Last week, he named longtime employee Brent Sicard as the company's new president and CEO. Sicard started out as an overnight janitor at Lueken's Village Foods in 1998 and has worked his way up.

[Related: Ten Years of Giving Back]

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