Anyone connected, even remotely, to retailing should be required to attend at least one Walmart Annual Shareholders Meeting.

David Pinto, Walmart, Walmart Annual Shareholders Meeting, retailing, Walmart’s annual meeting, Doug McMillon

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Inside This Issue - Opinion

Annual meeting shows Walmart at its best

June 16th, 2014
by David Pinto

Anyone connected, even remotely, to retailing should be required to attend at least one Walmart Annual Shareholders Meeting.

To label this experience unique is to state the obvious — and seriously understate its significance. As most retail participants know by now, a Walmart annual meeting differs dramatically from all others. It’s bigger, bolder, more daring, more innovative, more challenging — and designed not so much to impress the financial community or the U.S. or global media as to dazzle the Walmart associates. And this it succeeds in doing, to a remarkable degree.

That any other attendees leave suitably moved or impressed is, in Walmart’s view, an added — and often unintended — bonus.

The 2014 version of this event unfolded during the first week in June at the retailer’s headquarters city of Bentonville, Ark., and in nearby Fayetteville, where the actual meeting was held. This fact itself is significant, because Walmart’s annual meeting is more a weeklong event than something that occurs during any one day of that week. The occasion brings together some 15,000 people, the majority of them Walmart associates, who come to Bentonville from all 50 states and from some 27 other countries, outposts around the globe that contain Walmart stores or other operations that the world’s largest retailer uses to support or enhance its store and supply-chain base.

Through much of the week, Walmart arranges events for specific audiences — the media, the financial community, the supplier community. By Friday, the day of the meeting, these preliminary events have been disposed of and, at 7 a.m., the Annual Meeting informally kicks off. As it unfolds it becomes apparent that the financial aspects of Walmart’s performance are but a sideshow, an addendum to the proceedings. The meeting’s true focus zeroes in on the company’s 2.2 million employees or, at the least, the 10,000 or so who have journeyed to Bentonville to drink the Walmart Kool-Aid.

And for almost four hours, they do. Along the way they are exposed to world-class entertainment — Harry Connick Jr. was the event’s moderator, and several renowned entertainment personalities performed.

These performances came between presentations by and about company personalities, all designed to demonstrate how well Walmart is doing — and how much better the company will perform in the future. Each Walmart entity was reported upon and discussed, usually by one of that division’s senior managers. Disappointments were glossed over, while achievements, considerable as they were, were placed squarely at the feet of the Walmart associates, not so difficult an assignment, given the strength, commitment, energy and intelligence of the people who staff the retailer’s 10,942 units ­worldwide.

If any individual stood out in this marathon of assigning credit and strengthening resolve, that person was Walmart’s recently named chief executive officer, Doug McMillon. In a 20-minute talk at the meeting’s end, McMillon, just the fifth CEO in the company’s 52-year history, outlined the company’s considerable accomplishments, detailed its many strengths, and discussed several of the opportunities available to Walmart going forward. During this talk McMillon never lost sight of his origins at Walmart — as an hourly associate — or of the role that the Walmart associate has always played, and will continue to play, in the company’s success.

Through it all, the Walmart employees in attendance were understandably impressed with what they had accomplished in the past and what they were expected to accomplish in the years ahead.

As the meeting ended, and the crowd dispersed, preparing for the return trip to outposts through all four hemispheres, they little remembered, or cared, how Walmart had performed in the fiscal year that ended just three months prior to the meeting (a year, by the way, that saw the retailer reach $473 billion in sales, a plateau never previously achieved by any company of any type anywhere in the world).

Rather, they left believing that Walmart was special because they were special. And, armed with this belief, they left Bentonville prepared to work twice as hard going forward for a company they clearly and dearly love — and that loved them in return.

There are those who believe that the Walmart Annual Meeting is an exercise in excess, a bloated attempt to turn associates into believers, an excursion into territory better left uncharted, unexamined and unexplored. For those who truly believe that this meeting is unnecessary and lacking in merit, there is only one response: Anyone involved in retailing must be compelled to attend at least one Walmart Annual Meeting.