Tom Cruise makes surprise appearance at Wal-Mart annual meeting

Bentonville, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Stores  held its annual shareholders meeting on Friday morning and the most noteworthy development at the event — aside from a $15 billion share repurchase authorization — was a surprise appearance and glowing comments by Hollywood heavyweight Tom Cruise.

Walmart is used to big-name entertainers participating in its annual gathering and this year was no exception. Hugh Jackman served as emcee and Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson belted out a few tunes during an event that was focused on celebrating the accomplishments of the company’s 2.2 million employees.

That’s where Cruise came in. At the midpoint of the meeting, between presentations by Global eCommerce president and CEO Neil Ashe and Walmart U.S. president and CEO Bill Simon, Jackman introduced Cruise to the crowd of roughly 14,000 people gathered at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Ark. Wearing a dark blue suit, white shirt and dark tie, Cruise walked to the center of the stage to thunderous and enduring applause that elicited a huge smile and numerous thank yous.

“I’ve wanted to come here to this meeting for quite some time now,” Cruise said. “I truly admire your company. I’m inspired what you create every day.”

Even longtime attendees at the event who are accustomed to surprise appearance by celebrities could not have seen that coming.

Cruise called Walmart a role model for businesses because it has taken the lead on issues where it is leveraging its size and scale to make a difference.

“That is something I admire,” Cruise said. “Walmart is using its size and scale to improve women’s lives around the world.”

He also touched on the company’s sustainability efforts, initiatives to make healthy food more affordable and corporate giving which surpassed $1 billion for the first time in 2012.

Regarding sustainability he said, “This company is proving it is good business also,” and on the subject of food and lower produce prices he added that, “Walmart is committed to helping people eat better.”

His appearance and favorable comments seemed a bit surreal in part because Walmart has never had a celebrity of Cruise’s stature participate in its annual meeting, let alone make such favorable comments.

“I’m here today because I want to thank you, the associates, you are the ones who deserve a round of applause,” Cruise said before exiting the stage.

It’s not like Walmart isn’t on Hollywood’s radar considering the company’s ability to sell all manner of entertainment products, but there is a big difference between emceeing the event as Ben Stiller did on several occasions or performing a few songs as countless singers have done, and forcefully proclaiming Walmart to be a wonderful company.

In so doing, Cruise broke ranks with left-leaning Hollywood and the entertainment establishment to support a red-state, anti-union company founded on conservative principles.

That more than anything is what made his appearance and comments a jaw-dropping moment in a meeting that was otherwise filled with stale recaps of the business results, references to founder Sam Walton and uplifting stories about the exceptional efforts of associates.

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