BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Walmart held its annual shareholders’ meeting Friday morning against the backdrop of the company’s 50th anniversary and allegations of corruption in Mexico.
The seemingly diametrically opposed situations presented senior executives with the opportunity to underscore how the company’s unique culture and such enduring values as integrity would power future growth.
The four-hour event took on a more celebratory and historical tone than normal due to the 50th anniversary of the opening of the company’s first discount store on July 2, 1962. Accordingly, the backdrop on the stage inside Bud Walton Arena on the campus of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville featured a replica of the Walton 5-10 store located on the downtown square in nearby Bentonville. Company chairman Rob Walton, the eldest son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, entered the stage through the store’s front door. He then invited siblings Jim and Alice Walton to join him on stage where the three recounted stories of working in their father’s original store that served as the springboard for the company’s first discount store that opened in nearby Rogers, Ark. in 1962.
“Stepping through those doors brings back lots of memories of a special time and place,” Walton said, recounting how he carried merchandise into the store’s front door to an upstairs stock room and also refinished floors.
Walmart today bears no physical resemblance to the original single store operation, but Walton’s message and the point made by other senior executives, was that the core values the company’s legendary founder put in place 50 years ago that made possible the company’s success are the same things that will propel it to future growth.
“Let’s do things that no company has ever done before as we head into our next 50 years,” Walton said.
He then recalled a meeting he attended in 1991 where former Walmart president and CEO David Glass recounted a great financial performance. Sam Walton interrupted Glass with a comment about how the company had only just begun and then being the inspirational figure he was incited those at the meeting to chant, “We’ve only just begun.”
To the approximately 15,000 people gathered in the arena Friday morning, Rob Walton said, “We’ve only just begun to help people save money so they can live better. Do you believe it? Do you agree? The response he got was rather tepid, but Walton stopped short imploring crowd with an, “I can’t hear you,” appeal.
Following Walton, CFO Charles Holley and divisional CEOs took turns giving brief remarks and referencing Sam Walton, but steered cleared of specific discussions of growth objectives or specific strategies other than the overarching objective of saving people money so they can live better.
There was much discussion of that goal and how Walmart’s enduring corporate values and integrity-based culture would guide the company’s future success. Of course, with all the talk of integrity, Walmart and president and CEO Mike Duke were compelled to address the issue of an ongoing investigation in to possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act stemming from allegations of illegal payments made to facilitate growth in Mexico.
“Our governance is rooted in the foundation of values that dad put in place,” Walton said. “That’s why we are taking allegations regarding the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act very seriously.”
He said the company was using every resource necessary to conduct an investigation by a third party that has been instructed to go where the facts lead them and cooperating with the Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice.
“Acting with integrity is not a negotiable part of this business and we won’t tolerate wrongdoing of any kind,” Walton said. “It is my personal commitment to you that we will do the right thing the right way. You have my word on that.”
CEO Duke offered a similar commitment later in the meeting after referencing how integrity is the bedrock upon which Walmart’s foundation is built.
“Walmart is committed to compliance and integrity everywhere that we operate. We are dong everything we can to get to the bottom of this matter,” Duke said regarding the situation in Mexico. Then, speaking directly to the hundreds of Walmart senior executives who attended the event and sit on the floor of the arena, said, “If you work for Walmart there is no gray area between right and wrong. It is either the right thing to do or we shouldn’t do it at all. This is my standard and it was Sam Walton’s standard.”
Adherence to that standard along with other tenets of the company’s corporate culture is what makes Walmart special and why the company has been able to accomplish the things it has in the United States and around the world, according to Duke. There is no way to envision what the world will look like in the next 50 years, but by staying true to the vision that Walton created Duke noted, “there will be no limit to the good we can do all over the world.”