Inside This Issue - Opinion
Walmart’s gift to the world
June 18th, 2012
by David Pinto, Editor
The Walmart annual shareholders meeting, the one marking the company’s 50th year in business: What can be said or written about it that hasn’t already been?
The entertainment was first-rate, as indeed it invariably is at an event that attracts such A-list performers as Lionel Richie, Taylor Swift and Celine Dion, supported by host Justin Timberlake.
The message was simple and clear: Integrity is the order of the day. The scandal that erupted out of Mexico earlier this year was a minor event, though it will certainly resurface in a big way in the months to come.
The board of directors was reelected — no surprise, given the Walton family’s control of the corporation — and all the appropriate (to the company) motions were accepted or rejected.
But, as in past years, the real story about Walmart — the expanse of its global reach and influence, the breadth of its success, the size of its business, the extent of its community and global outreach programs — somehow got lost in the company’s determination to tell its audience just how good business is. In that it succeeded — because Walmart’s business is good, indeed better, healthier, more robust and more exciting than it’s been since the early years of this century. Domestic sales are again on the upswing. International sales have emerged as nothing less than a business within a business. Sam’s Club is perhaps the company’s hottest property. Walmart.com has redefined itself and, in doing so, shows every indication of both contributing to and supporting the company’s growth going forward.
But the story behind these accomplishments largely got lost, probably because it lacks the sizzle of positive comp-store performance and global sales gains that exceed 25%. But the real story of Walmart in 2012 is that this company is making a huge contribution, largely unnoticed, to the health and wellness of the planet. More specifically, Walmart is at the forefront of advancing the status of women in the workplace. The retailer is opening grocery stores in areas of the country that have had to survive for too long without them. Walmart is far ahead of other retailers when it comes to supporting local businesses and farmers throughout the world.
Overlooked or taken for granted is the fact that the company now employs some 800,000 people outside the United States, in addition to the 1.4 million within its borders.
Overlooked as well is the fact that the retailer is a presence in 27 countries, where it fields an aggregate of some 69 different private label brands. As a result of these and other initiatives, Walmart has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the planet and many of its 7 billion inhabitants. Put another way, the world is a better place for Walmart’s presence and participation.
Sadly, though, it is this company’s unfortunate lot in life that these accomplishments have been largely overshadowed by the pitfalls that smarter or more sophisticated retailers would have either avoided, minimized or more easily overcome. Walmart is certainly not the only company that has taken shortcuts to growth where those shortcuts were encouraged or allowed. Walmart is not the first company to be criticized for the lack of generosity in its compensation programs or the absence of comprehensive health care programs. And in truth, Walmart has come a long way toward rectifying previous inequities in these areas.
Still, the criticism refuses to go away. As a result, the company continues to be defined along very narrow parameters. To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., it is not the content of its character by which Walmart is judged, but by the most visible shortcomings in its day-to-day dealings with its various constituencies. That’s sad because, behind these day-to-day dealings, and the shortcomings they occasionally reveal or highlight — shortcomings by no means unique to Walmart — exists one of the great companies America has produced in the past 50 years. And make no mistake: Greatness, a word that is not used lightly, is defined here not by the state of the company’s balance sheet but by the impact its presence has exerted on a planet that sorely needs a positive impact these days. Put another way, no company in any business on any continent approaches Walmart in terms of the good it has accomplished as a by-product of doing business in today’s global community. In short, the world is a better place today because Sam Walton decided to open a discount store in Rogers, Ark., 50 years ago.
On Walmart’s 50th anniversary this is its true, if underappreciated, gift to the world.