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Walmart CEO Doug McMillon was a teenager when his family moved to Bentonville, AK−which is where Sam Walton opened the company’s first store in 1962.
McMillon knew Walton and briefly worked with him before the latter died in 1992. Little did McMillon know at the time, but his experience with Walton would prove to be an invaluable source of guidance.
McMillon joined National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay for a keynote session titled, “The Changing Face of Retail,” on Sunday at NRF 2018 in New York City.
When McMillon, who became the company’s fifth CEO in 2014 after he led the Sam’s Club division from 2005 to 2009, and Walmart International from 2009 to 2013, started unloading trucks at a warehouse as a teenager, he was shocked by how happy people working there were.
“I ended up working for Walmart a few times to help pay my way through school, and graduate school, worked in a store, and went into the home office,” McMillon explained. “I was around Sam Walton and watched him lead and I was lucky enough to move into the home office before Sam passed away. I had a few conversations with him and watched him lead Saturday morning meetings. My first Saturday morning meeting I was able to present an item as a buyer. Sam Walton was holding the microphone. I got to see him actually lead and that had a big impact on me.”
Walton’s overarching values tied to the customers and employees have been ingrained in McMillon since his teenage years.
Walmart, recently announced it plans to raise its minimum starting wage to $11 an hour, from $9. It will also expand maternity and family leave benefits, and give bonuses of up to $1,000 to eligible employees.
“The maternal leave/parental leave struck the strongest emotional cord,” McMillon said. “Big dollars went to wages and a continued commitment to training and a one-time bonus. I think, big picture, what everybody here as a retailer knows is true is this is a people business. The way the customers feel when they leave your store, or leave your website, or your app determines how fast they’re going to come back. There’s a piece of humanity here that really matters.”
McMillon talked about Walmart’s focus on culture because the company’s success has been based on it being a “team sport” inside a business environment.
Associates play a key role in successful technology efforts aimed at providing a seamless, frictionless experience whether in a physical store or via Walmart’s ecommerce channel.
“In our case, 2.3 million people around the world, most of them on the frontline interacting with customers, and we want to know how much we care about them and how much we value their work, and we want to foster a culture that supports change and helps us go along this journey we’re on that will include even more change in the future,” he explained. “As we make investments in technology, we want our people to go through that with us, to help contribute ideas, and be part of that process. To achieve that, we have to put them first and support them.”
Taking care of the basics of benefits matters, but McMillon knows you have to demonstrate that you’re creating an opportunity for them.
“The bet we’re making, over the long term as we become a different kind of technology company, the people that are in that mix will, ultimately, be the way that we’ll win,” McMillon said. “It’s certainly how Sam Walton led. It’s smart strategy and it’s part of the future for everyone.”
The area of skills development is another key focal point at Walmart.
McMillon helped launch more than 200 academies (two- to six-week programs) to teach new retailing skills necessary today to provide a seamless and engaging customer experience.
“We’ve created these academies to bring everyone through this process of learning how to adopt a new technology,” McMillon said. “Brick-and-mortar stores we want to make better. We want to build our ecommerce business and nail the fundamentals. The person who ultimately decides whether we’re here or not is the customer and they’re very rational. They make choices about price, assortment, and experience. Value will always matter.
McMillon said so much is possible today.
“The work that we’re talking about is actually from within, shaping the culture of the organization, the behaviors of the organization, and literally how we work is, ultimately, what will decide whether we win with customers or not,” he explained. “What that looks like is a company that had a core group of silos that starts to work in an agile fashion across those silos. I think we’re learning how to do that and that enables speed, effectiveness, and efficiency.”
Walmart operates 11,652 stores under 59 banners in 28 countries, and ecommerce websites in 11 countries.
“Retail is local in many ways,” McMillon said. “We empower people locally as to how they run their businesses. I’m seeing more commonality in terms of how technology is impacting these conversations. Everywhere around the world people want to save money and they want to save time.”
Walton gave Walmart four core values to live by: Respect, strive for excellence, service the customer, and act with integrity.
“He gave us a very clear purpose,” McMillon said. “He said the secret is we’re all working together. He gave us a culture of change and that gives us a shot. Retail is about change. It’s challenging and fast paced. The work happens in every department, in every store, in every part of the business.”
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