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"It played out the way it played out," says Blazer, who said he began to see the Forum's limitations. "It's not an esoteric cult, which is how it was played out to be. That's just not true."
Jilted by the lawsuit and struggling personally, he started searching for answers.
"I had a marriage fail with my son's mother, my reputation in the community was ruined by what people had said, the relationship with my brother and sister wasn't what I wanted," Blazer says.
As a child, he says, Blazer obsessed with understanding how people could better work together rather than compete — an interest that might have been triggered by watching his parents quarrel, often times over money. In business school he searched for months for a focus — and later a job — that involved organizational development, but to no avail.
"I couldn't understand why people had to compete with each other rather than work together," he says. "When we support each other, we do better."
In February 1989, around the same time his father was diagnosed with lung cancer, Robert had an epiphany while sitting at the desk in his office. He pulled out a pen and wrote "The Stand," a 78-word manifest that dictates what could create the "World Market."
"We declare that the world is designed to work," says the credo, a copy of which hangs outside the market between the two entrances. "We are responsible for what does not work. We make the difference. No matter how technologically advanced we become, we cannot escape our fundamental relationships with food and each other. The possibility of these relationships is the world market. In this context, the world works for everyone free of scarcity and suffering. We commit ourselves to the possibility this world market is for the future generations of this planet."
Two months later, after Blazer's father's death and more prayers, the market owner started finding answers to the questions he'd wrestled with his entire life. The philosophy serves as the foundation of the market's employment management system, part of which requires nearly all workers to pair up. Though Blazer declined to discuss specifics, it involves one person serving as the yin to another's yang, balancing out each other's talents. Employees wear a white or black dot to signify which they are. Over time, the workers, some of whom work together for years, naturally bond. Even the store's human resources managers Reti Canaj and Vaishali Desai work side by side, with desks pressed against one another.
The system, however unorthodox, is largely credited with helping effectively manage such a huge, sprawling operation, according to Blazer. For years Blazer and his wife have worked on a book about the system and the philosophy, which he plans to finish this year and release before the market's 36th anniversary next June.
How the market is able to provide such a large array of products and produce at such low prices is a study in slow, controlled growth and the perks of private ownership. Some of what's sold in the market is produced by its "World Direct" brand on farms either owned or contracted by the Blazers.
In South Mexico, the company partnered with a mango farm operated by retired professors that was losing money during the packaging process. Blazer's team came in with new equipment, taught them new methods of packaging, and both sides, he says, benefit.
Upstairs in the executive suite, just outside Robert and Barbara's office, nearly 30 employees work phones and follow shipments under a massive world map. The diverse team, some of whom have been working at the market for more than a decade, is in constant contact with transport companies and farms throughout the Western Hemisphere. Blazer's son from his first marriage, Daniel, a Woodruff Academy graduate who took a one-year break to learn the family business before attending Emory University, spearheads the wholesale and international side of the business. Fluent in Spanish, the younger Blazer maintains relations with and finds new farms.
Though today more than 80 percent of store employees are Ethiopian — their name tags list Amharic, the country's official language — the nationalities represented on the payroll read like a roll call at the United Nations. Waves of immigration tied to changes in easing of visa restrictions, famine, and political unrest have mirrored the nationalities of employees who clock in at YDFM. With its proximity to Clarkston, metro Atlanta's hot spot for refugee resettlement, the market has become the go-to first job for many newcomers. Many immigrants to the United States, says Brian Bollinger of World Relief Atlanta, a nonprofit organization that helps UN war refugees resettle, only have "90 days to go from zero to economically self-sufficient," a financial status the market helps them achieve.
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