Yes, they’ve done it again! Wal-Mart knocked Exxon Mobile out of the top slot to once again rule the Fortune 500. Ironically, Wal-Mart surpassed Exxon Mobile by more than $120 billion in revenue while the retail industry suffered a harsh economic downturn which led to store closings, tremendous job loss, and bankruptcies from coast to coast.
While this may be interesting business news and a great achievement for the world’s largest retailer, there’s an even greater story behind the story. Wal-Mart has become a global “anomaly” (any occurrence or object that is strange, unusual, or unique. It can also mean a discrepancy or deviation from an established rule or trend.)
In my travels across this great nation, I have learned that Wal-Mart is loved and respected by half the population and hated and berated by the other half.
However, based on this year’s revenues, apparently the half that loves Wal-Mart has more money than the half that hates Wal-Mart!
The mammoth global retailer has been the target for “haters” for decades now. The reasons are numerous and constantly in the news. This has long been a consequence for leaders in most every industry. However, in most cases, those who love and/or hate the enormous retailer are sadly misinformed to one extreme or the other. People have a tendency to make a snap decision based on what little they may know. The danger in doing so can be critical.
The goal in benchmarking any organization should be to duplicate or take advantage of any and all positive assets and avoid and/or ignore anything negative. Let’s take a closer look at Wal-Mart for example.
Wal-Mart has made a lot of mistakes and poor choices in the past. That’s been documented and verified. That’s almost to be expected when you have more than 8,000 stores in 15 countries, as well as 2.1 million employees on the payroll. That certainly isn’t an excuse, but it is a major factor. On the other hand, Wal-Mart has accomplished a great deal in its journey to become the largest retailer in the world and its achievement of the #1 slot in the Fortune 500 for the 7th time.
Consider a few of its many accomplishments to understand how it has grown and prospered over the years:
- 8,416 retail stores
- 53 different banners
- 15 countries
- 2.1 million employees
- Sales of $405 billion
- 7,200 semi-tractor-trailer trucks
- 900 million miles driven yearly
- More than a half of a billion dollars donated to non-profit organizations
- Support more than 100,000 charitable and community-focused organizations
- Donated 126 million lbs. of food to food banks
- Donated to earthquake support for both Haiti and Chile
- Beefed up health care coverage for employees
- Earned revenues greater than GM, Ford and Chrysler combined
- Earned revenues greater than Sears, K-Mart, Target, Home Depot, Lowes, Best Buy, JCPenney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Gap, Radio Shack, Staples, Rite Aid, and Toys R Us combined.
Wal-Mart’s great success has often been credited directly to its founder Sam Walton. Having studied the growth of Wal-Mart for many years, I have come to the conclusion that the unique CULTURE created by Walton actually deserves the credit. While Sam himself initiated the culture, it has grown and prospered under the leadership of three talented CEOs since his death in 1992. Each contributed a unique quality to the retailer’s phenomenal growth.
Thus, its current success!
Wal-Mart may someday very well follow the disastrous path of previous industry leaders such as Sears, General Motors, and Enron, leading to their eventual downfall. Until that happens, there is much to learn from its daily operations.
Every organization has strengths and weaknesses from which we can learn. You don’t have to like or approve of any particular organization to gain wisdom from its actions. Keep an open mind. Duplicate the positive and avoid the negative. Grow and prosper.