This book was destined for publication. It was simply a matter of when it would be written and by whom. In fact, I’m amazed that it wasn’t published long before this. Wal-Mart is so much more than the smiling faces of the senior citizens who greet you with open arms at the front of the store, it’s more than the bouncing Smiley Face continually reducing prices in every aisle, and it’s certainly much more than a typical discount store chain headquartered in the small Arkansas town of Bentonville. Wal-Mart is the real thing. It’s here to stay. It’s a world-class company.
There is much to learn from this corporate giant that recently moved into the #1 spot on the Fortune 500 ahead of GM, Exxon Oil, Ford Motor, and GE. Do you think Wal-Mart simply stumbled into that coveted position? Consider this:
- Wal-Mart has revenues of $246 billion;
- Wal-Mart has 1 million 300 thousand employees;
- Wal-Mart has mastered logistics and the supply chain;
- Wal-Mart shares its strategic vision with each and every employee;
- Wal-Mart leaders never rest on their laurels;
- Wal-Mart continually finds ways to reduce costs while improving the shopping experience for its customers;
- Wal-Mart is the first company ever to head both the Fortune 500 list of American companies and that magazine’s list of Most Admired Companies; and
- the Wal-Mart management team has devised and then implemented strategies for rapid but prudent growth.
The greatest strength in the Wal-Mart arsenal is the fact that its CULTURE is everything. It’s hard to argue with the reality of Wal-Mart’s continued performance.
I think it’s important to realize that the author of this book isn’t a devoted Wal-Mart fan trying to recruit additional followers for the retail giant. Robert Slater was a reporter for Time Magazine for 21 years. He is the best-selling author of Jack Welch and the GE Way and has also written acclaimed books about IBM and Cisco. He probed deeply into the Wal-Mart organization from top to bottom, from Bentonville to China and beyond. This book offers a fresh and fascinating look at this unique company—as it was and as it has become—with an immediacy and insider’s feel unrivaled since Sam Walton’s own memoir, Made In America.
Sam Walton set the bar high for his future leaders. He created a unique culture based on three basic beliefs:
- Respect for the individual;
- Service to the customers; and
- Striving for excellence.
Walton was also totally committed to what he characterized as his Ten Rules of Business … each of which is explained in detail in the book. The author allocates three of 14 chapters to “The Founder and His Legacy.” He wisely devotes the remainder of his book to explaining how the new management team devised and then implemented strategies for tremendous growth.
There really have been three quite different periods of Wal-Mart’s development from a Ben Franklin franchise (opened in Bentonville as the Walton 5 and 10 in March of 1951) to the global retailing giant it is today. The three periods include the Sam Walton Years until his death in 1992, the David Glass Years (1992-2000), and the Lee Scott Years (2000-Present).
For years, many people asked about Wal-Mart the same question that others asked about Southwest Airlines: “What’s going to happen after HE leaves?” With all due respect to both Sam Walton and Herb Kelleher, their respective organizations have done just fine. Perhaps that is the ultimate test of leadership: a heritage which endures after the leader is either gone or much less involved. In this exceptionally informative book, Slater explains how and why such a heritage guides and inspires the entire Wal-Mart organization.
(This book review was originally published in 2003 as one of the Top 10 Books – Edition 12.)