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Associates still lifeblood of an evolving Walmart

Walmart McMillon
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon speaks at Walmart's Associate Celebration.

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — For the first time in three years, Walmart staged a full-fledged version of its annual celebration for associates, and the event did not disappoint. Thousands of employees from around the world descended on northwest Arkansas for a week of activities, culminating in a gathering at the Bud Walton Arena. The vociferous crowd of more than 15,000 was entertained by, among others, James Corden, Jon Batiste and the Jonas Brothers; inspired by examples of their colleagues’ contributions across the organization; and informed by chief executive officer Doug McMillon and other top executives about the company’s 60-year history and the road ahead.

Walmart Associates

Walmart Chile associates pose for a photo while touring the International Support Center at the Walmart Home Office.

The transformational impact that Walmart associates can have on the lives of customers was thrown into relief by the winners of the Sam M. Walton Entrepreneur of the Year Award, nine individuals who worked on the development of ReliOn private label insulin. During the presentation of the award by members of the Walton family, former company chairman Rob Walton said that the product offers diabetic customers between 58% and 75% off the retail cash price, exemplifying Walmart’s mission to help people save money and live better.

McMillon kept the spotlight on associates during his remarks, in which he also asserted that the investments of recent years are changing Walmart for the better, enhancing its ability to serve customers.

After reviewing the company’s financial performance over the past five years, McMillon said, “You can see how our past investments in higher wages, lower prices, e-commerce and technology pressured operating income in the years before the pandemic. But those investments created a faster-growing business. We’re more relevant for customers, we’re more digital, and we have a different portfolio of countries and businesses.

“The millions of digital customer relationships we build, enabled by e-commerce, unlock opportunities to build a larger marketplace, profitable fulfillment and delivery services, membership income, and a very profitable advertising business, which exceeded $2 billion last year. We’re shaping our business model to generate a strong return for years to come.”

Walmart McMillon

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon speaks at Walmart’s Associate Celebration.

The only dark cloud on the horizon was Walmart’s disappointing first quarter earnings, which were weighed down by rising costs and high inventory levels. McMillon — who referenced the issue humorously during the associates celebration, saying the company should hire mind reader Lior Suchard, who was part of the entertainment, to determine how much inventory is needed — addressed the problem head on at a meeting with financial analysts.

“We did not enjoy the first quarter. It’ll take a little bit of time to work through the inventory,” he said. “Over the last few weeks, you saw the team react in a very detailed and aggressive way. Some people inside the company called it old-school Walmart. And that’s a compliment to me — we still know how to run a retail business down to the granular level.”

Despite present challenges, McMillon reiterated his confidence in Walmart’s long-term strategy. The melding of the company’s long-standing prowess as an everyday-low-cost operator with new ways of reaching the consumer is expected to produce a technology-powered ecosystem that delivers goods and services that go far beyond the scope of traditional mass market retailing.

“We’re trying to design for families, design for customers and members, a retail experience that has stores or clubs plus e-commerce in the various forms,” he said. “And that brings along with it a marketplace business, a fulfillment business, an ad business. And we’re going further into health care in multiple countries and financial services in multiple countries. There are commonalities of that connected flywheel that are happening across markets.

“It’s so exciting. If you can turn one relationship, whether that comes through e-comm, stores, health and wellness, or financial services, all being top-of-funnel, into a set of relationships with the other businesses, [they] become default, which in a digital world you can do better than you could in an analog world, [and] you’ve got a more valuable company.”