MMR’s Seven Executives Who Made a Difference
BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Over-the-counter medications offer a first line of treatment for people with aches and pains, or minor illnesses.
As vice president of O-T-C merchandising at Walmart, Annie Walker is responsible for making sure that the right products customers need to address those health needs are available on the shelf, at the low prices that Walmart shoppers expect.
“The two main things we focus on in our health and wellness business are access and affordability,” Walker says. “That is what we want to provide to our customers.”
Affordability has become particularly important for American health care consumers, Walker points out, citing research showing that one in four Americans skip a recommended test or treatment because of cost, and that one in three Americans has put it off or postponed getting the health care they needed because of cost.
“Those are the kinds of statistics that fuel our passion,” Walker says. “And it means that our challenge is, when customers step into our O-T-C department, how do we deliver the experience that allows them to get the health care that they need?”
It is a mission that aligns perfectly with Walmart’s “Save Money, Live Better” brand promise. For her efforts in helping Walmart deliver on that brand promise in the health and wellness arena, the editors of MMR have selected Walker as one of the Seven Executives Who Made a Difference in 2016.
Walker is quick to emphasize that the accomplishments of any of Walmart’s leaders are very much the result of a team effort.
“The only way you can be successful is by having a really strong team of people around you,” Walker says. “And I just feel blessed that I’ve been surrounded by really strong people in my supply chain team, my pricing team, my private brand team and my buying team.”
Even though Walmart is a very large company, Walker points out that its low-cost business model means that it does not have a lot of extra manpower to spare.
“We run a pretty lean operation, which enables us to continue to deliver against our low-cost, low-price business model,” she says. “But that also makes it even more critical that each person is capable and strong, given the breadth of responsibility that everyone has.”
Walker also cites the importance of the strategic direction that has been established by Walmart U.S. president and chief executive officer Greg Foran.
“He set out, about two years ago, to really focus on driving on Walmart’s true strength, which is its everyday-low cost operation and its everyday-low prices, and by continuing to invest in our operations, including stores and dot.com,” Walker says. “So all of us as leaders have been marching in line with that overall corporate strategy, which has been delivering positive results. And so my role within that is ensuring that I’m delivering on the “Save Money, Live Better” promise each and every day.”
It was Walmart’s people and culture that convinced Walker to join the company in 2002, after graduating with a degree in industrial and systems engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Walker started with Walmart in the engineering team, focusing on supply chain issues. While she liked the work, she began to want a more hands-on role in the business, so she made a lateral move, accepting a replenishment manager position that had become available in basic candy.
She served as replenishment manager until 2006, when she was promoted to divisional replenishment manager.
She became director of entertainment replenishment in 2008, senior director of general merchandise replenishment in 2010, and vice president of merchandise execution (for general merchandise, home and apparel) in 2012.
Walker was named to her current post of vice president of O-T-C merchandising in January 2015.
Walker and her team work very closely with key suppliers on prescription-to-O-T-C switches and other new product launches, to make sure Walmart’s customers have access to the hottest new products that can address their health care needs.
“We love innovation, and our customers show that every day in the way that they shop us,” Walker says, adding that both branded and private label products have important roles to play in helping Walmart deliver on its goal of providing health care solutions that are both accessible and affordable.
“Brands drive innovation,” she says. “People come into the stores to find brands, and that is evident from the growth that we’re seeing in brands today.
“On the flip side, there’s also a strong need for private brands, and we’re seeing growth in our sales of private brands as well. Private brands play an important role in creating access for our customers and, in fact, there are customers at all income levels who shop private brands.
“And so for us it’s about creating store private brands that offer quality, value and reliability from a supply chain perspective.
“We want to create a great experience for our customer who appreciates having private brands as an option, while also focusing on growing our brands as well. I’m not focused on one or the other — I’m focused on both.”
Walker adds that with 140 million people walking into Walmart stores every week (well more than the 111.9 million who tuned in to watch the Superbowl this year), “we have a huge opportunity to serve a large consumer population by delivering on our ‘Save Money, Live Better’ promise every day.”