Okay, maybe not president, but if or when Walmart U.S. president and CEO Bill Simon leaves the company after being passed over for the top job, it will be Walmart’s loss and the nation’s benefit if he pursues political office or public service.
During his nearly eight years with Walmart, Simon has spearheaded populist initiatives in the areas of pharmacy, food, domestic sourcing and veteran’s employment. A Navy veteran himself, Simon has “crossed the aisle,” as politicians are fond of saying, having served in the administration of former Florida Republican governor Jeb Bush and more recently rubbing shoulders on multiple occasions with top Obama administration officials and the First Lady. Looking at his track record at Walmart and public comments, Simon comes across as a centrist who embraces the small government, limited regulation, free market ideals of Republications, but whose business accomplishments are focused on helping lower and middle income Americans live a better life.
Early on, it was Walmart’s $4 generic drug program that got Simon noticed shortly after arriving at Walmart with no retail experience. At one point he appeared alongside Jeb Bush at a Walmart pharmacy in Orlando, Fla., when it was announced the popularity of the program had led to an accelerated rollout.
Simon embraced Walmart’s business model, and when he was elevated to the role of COO and later CEO of Walmart U.S., he was the force who restored the emphasis on the traditional every day low price business model to Walmart’s floundering U.S. business. Simon served as an articulate spokesman for the Walmart way of conducting business as a means to fulfill the company’s mission of saving people money so they could live better. That philosophy was evident in the company’s real estate and merchandising strategy. On Simon’s watch, Walmart committed to opening stores in areas identified as “food deserts,” where residents lack access to healthy and affordable food. That decision aligned the company with the Obama administration and the First Lady’s anti-obesity initiative. Walmart also committed to reformulating processed foods and lowering prices on fresh foods as the cornerstones of a broader effort to make food healthier and healthier food more affordable.
Many of the domestic strategies Walmart has pursued on Simon’s watch have political overtones, and were it not for Walmart’s involvement, might even sound like government programs. This phenomenon was especially evident on several occasions this year. Back in January, when Simon was the featured speaker at the annual convention of the National Retail Federation, he gave a forceful speech about restoring America that was underpinned by two new Walmart initiatives.
The company vowed to hire 100,000 veterans in the next five years as part of its own economic stimulus program and also unveiled a domestic sourcing initiative that called for purchasing $50 billion in goods from domestic suppliers. The manner in which Simon spoke and the subject matter of his presentation lent his remarks the feel of a campaign speech.
More recently, when Walmart convened its first ever domestic sourcing summit in Orlando, Simon gave an equally impassioned appeal to an audience of several thousand that included Democratic and Republican governors from nearly a dozen states.
At this point, Simon’s future at Walmart is known to only a handful of people. Were he to leave though, it is not too hard to imagine him achieving political success or serving as a senior government official, especially considering the type of leadership he has displayed at Walmart and his breadth of professional experience.