NO MERE MR. NICE GUY

GUBERNATORIAL HOPEFUL EDDIE BASHA IS KNOWN AS A PHILANTHROPIST AND A CRUSADER FOR EDUCATION. WHAT HE'S NOT KNOW AS IS A DEMOCRAT

"I made a generous personal contribution to help build the clinic, and I will continue to serve on their fund-raising committee," Basha says.

"Am I a self-made man? Absolutely not," Eddie Basha says. "I'm part of a family. I was very fortunate. I always knew what I wanted to be. I always wanted to do what my dad did. My dad was my hero. He was my idol. I'm very fortunate to have had something to go into that I really like."
The corporate office of Bashas' Markets Inc. is located in south Chandler, in a grove of trees marking the community of Ocotillo. The Compadre Stadium sports complex is a long home run away. Ocotillo was the site of the first store opened by Eddie Basha Sr. and his brother, Ike. Their first customers were Native Americans from the nearby Gila River reservation. The Bashas learned to speak the dialect so they could trade.

Today, the corporate headquarters is a cluster of buildings. The main administrative office is relatively new but outwardly unremarkable. The hallways leading to the office of the board chairman are lined with Western paintings and plaques of appreciation. Basha's office has no windows. It is a dim, cluttered place.

A 7,000-square-foot wing of the building houses the stunning corporate art collection.

"I have a very strong belief in the importance of art in society," Basha says. "Every business has a responsibility to be patrons of the arts."
According to state Corporation Commission records, Bashas' Markets Inc. declared $200 million in assets in 1992. Because the company is privately held, it's difficult to glean many details about its inner workings. What is evident is that the empire has burgeoned since 1968, when Eddie Basha Sr. died and Eddie Jr. took the reins. (Ike Basha preceded his brother in death.)

When he took over as president, Basha Jr. says, the company was in dire straits. He says that his decisive actions to shore it up are indicative of what he's made of, what he could do as governor.

"We were far-flung, with 16 stores and a dairy and ranch and all that," he says. "I took the bull by the horns and salvaged our company, and today we're a sizable operation. I've had to make these hard decisions. I make hard decisions every day. In a fight, yes, I'm tough. Damn right, I'm tough. I talk tough and I act tough and I am tough."
Bashas' now has 68 stores, and owns more than 35 of the shopping centers that house them. The company adds an average of two to three new stores per year. There is little doubt that Bashas' has flourished in the face of withering competition from high-powered chains such as Safeway. Industry observers say the Phoenix-area market is a grocery free-for-all. There is little room for error. Last year, industry officials say, the average profit margin for Arizona's food retailers was less than 1 percent.

As president and then chairman of the board, Basha can take the credit for Bashas' success, even if he has simply had the good sense to stand aside and let his corporate officers do their jobs. Company insiders say when it comes to day-to-day operations, that's what he does. But when a problem or customer complaint comes to his attention, he investigates thoroughly before recommending a solution.

"Bashas' is not a dictatorship," Basha says, adding that the key to the company's success is the productivity and loyalty of its employees. Bashas' is nonunion, he says, because the "members" are treated well.

Bill DeLong, the former state senator from Tucson, has had an opportunity to see Basha in his element. During his annual store tours, Basha invited DeLong--then the Education Committee chairman--to fly with him on the company plane to outlying communities, where the senator would huddle with local educators and inspect their facilities.

"I also had an opportunity to see Eddie Basha, the businessman, when he visited his stores," DeLong says. "I have probably visited 20 to 25 of the stores in this state, and I have never entered a store with Eddie but what everyone didn't brighten up and smile. He knew every employee by name and something about their family. It was phenomenal."
Eddie Basha's side of the family controls the majority of the stock, with three seats on the board of directors represented by Basha and two Phoenix attorneys, Dan Cracchiolo and Lupe Iniguez. Basha's sister, Karen Rishwain, and her husband, Robert, of Stockton, California, hold the remaining two seats, and represent what Basha describes as the extended family's minority shareholders, including three aunts.

Basha says his first commitment has always been to continued growth and prosperity for the company. He doesn't take much out of the company, he insists. But not every member of the extended Basha family shares that view. A few years ago, his aunts decided to cash out.

"The issue basically at stake was the golden goose," Basha says. "The goose lays an egg every day, and sometimes people want to get that goose and open it up and get all the eggs. . . . For older people, the concept of the leveraged buyout is more appealing. But for us and my family and everybody else, sustaining your operation is what's important, building for the future."
Basha says his single-minded desire for long-term growth kept him out of the risky ventures that throttled a few of his friends during the Eighties. Still, there have been some other business ventures--and misadventures.

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