Wal-Mart Celebrates 50 Years at 2012 Shareholders’ Meeting

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 478 views 

In 1962, Sam Walton opened his first Wal-Mart store in a 35,000-SF space on Walnut Street in Rogers. There were 25 associates.

Friday morning in Fayetteville, more than 14,000 of the 2 million associates who work for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. across the globe listened as today’s leaders highlighted a half-century of unimaginable growth and success during the company’s signature event, a high-energy party/concert known as the annual shareholders’ meeting.

The event, held inside Bud Walton Arena on the University of Arkansas campus, culminated a week’s worth of activity that drew associates and shareholders to Northwest Arkansas from five continents.

The annual meeting of the now-$444 billion company was relocated from Bentonville to the larger venue in the mid 1990s, though company officials did not know the exact year.

The gathering of roughly 16,000 people came less than two months after a bombshell report in The New York Times detailed a bribery scandal involving the company’s Mexico operation, Wal-Mart de Mexico.

Wal-Mart, it is alleged, failed to act on the findings of an internal probe that showed Walmex leaders bribed officials there in 2005 and 2006, in exchange for faster approval of building permits and other favors.

The paper reported that Wal-Mart executives failed to notify authorities even after its own investigators found evidence of bribery originating from its Mexican division.

The company has said it is, again, investigating the matter internally and addressing its compliance measures.

Its top executives, somewhat surprisingly, touched on the matter Friday.

“We’ve all heard the recent allegations about the company,” president and CEO Michael T. Duke said. “Let me be clear — Wal-Mart is committed to compliance and integrity everywhere we operate. I want to personally assure you, we’re doing everything we can to get to the bottom of this matter.

“And let me speak directly to our leaders and associates. If you work for Wal-Mart, there is no gray area between right and wrong. It’s either the right thing to do, or it shouldn’t be done at all. This is my standard. It was Sam Walton’s standard. We will not accept anything less than integrity.”

S. Robson Walton, the oldest son of Sam and Helen Walton and chairman of the board, also vowed Friday the company would not tolerate wrongdoing.

“Acting with integrity is not a negotiable part of this business,” Walton said. “We will not tolerate … wrongdoing of any kind. That is my commitment to our board members, and to you, our shareholders. We will do the right thing, the right way. You have my word on that.”

Those acknowledgements tempered the hullabaloo only slightly, as the crowd was kept upbeat and entertained by a number of musical acts throughout the morning, including Taylor Swift, the Zac Brown Band, Take 6, Lionel Richie, Celine Dion and Juanes.

Justin Timberlake also did his part as master of ceremonies. The popular entertainer came onto the stage wearing a grass hula skirt, homage to a legendary story about Sam Walton, who wore the same thing while doing a dance on Wall Street — after he lost a bet to executive David Glass — in 1984.

“Wow. 7:20 … 7:20?” the entertainer said in his opening remarks. “Alright. That’s how we roll at Wal-Mart.”

As for the business portion of the meeting, both Walton and Duke were among 15 board members re-elected by shareholders. The others included Alda M. Alvarez, James W. Breyer, M. Michele Burns, James I. Cash Jr., Roger Corbett, Douglas N. Daft, Gregory B. Penner, Steven S. Reinemund, H. Lee Scott Jr., Arne M. Sorenson, Jim C. Walton, Christopher J. Williams and Linda Wolf. All but Reinemund were in attendance Friday.

Shareholders also approved Marissa Meyer of Google Inc. as an additional board member.

Shareholders approved Ernst & Young LLP as the company’s independent accountant and ratified Proposal No. 3 on the subject of executive officer compensation.

Proposals Nos. 4 through 6 — all shareholder proposals regarding political contributions reporting, director nomination policies and incentive compensation programs — were defeated. Voting results will be released Monday.

Shareholders were represented in person or by proxy Friday by 3.1 billion shares — 92 percent of the company’s total.

Rob Walton opened Friday’s meeting just after 7 a.m., speaking from a stage made to resemble a replica of the original Walton 5-10 storefront on Bentonville’s downtown square.

He was quickly joined by younger siblings Jim and Alice, and the three reflected on the store’s early days.

They recalled the type of work they and their brother — the late John Walton — did, from shining the tile floors to moving merchandise through the stock room, and also spoke of their father’s willingness to market almost anything — notably baby alligators.

In the nearly four hours of choreography that followed there were speakers, videos, music, singing, laughing, cheering and reminiscing.

Several of the company’s top executives gave brief remarks, including Sam’s Club CEO Rosalind Brewer, the speaker for this year’s Northwest Arkansas Business Journal Forty Under 40 event Aug. 21 at the Embassy Suites in Rogers.

Wal-Mart CFO Charles Holley noted the company’s stock price on the date of last year’s shareholders meeting ($53.66; June 3) as well as its price at the final bell Thursday afternoon ($65.82).

“That’s definitely worth cheering for,” he said, acknowledging the crowd’s approval.

Holley also shared benchmarks of the company’s growth at the end of each decade. Wal-Mart was doing a billion dollars in monthly sales at the end of the 1980s, a billion in weekly sales at the end of the 1990s and a billion in sales each day at the end of the 2000s.

He also pointed out the company’s $14 billion sales in increase in FY2011 and a FY2012 sales increase of $25 billion.

“It’s been quite a success story and the story continues,” he said. “And you are all part of it.”

Duke also discussed the company’s strong recent performance, adding that Wal-Mart “thinks like a global company that understands local customers.”

“All segments of our company had a great first quarter,” he said. “Wal-Mart U.S. delivered the sales comps in three years, [Wal-Mart] International achieved outstanding profit growth and Sam’s Club continues to build sales momentum.

“I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — Wal-Mart is the best positioned global retailer in the world today.”

Duke was introduced to the stage by associate Valeda Snyder of Lebanon, Mo. Snyder was given a boisterous standing ovation after a short video paid tribute to her 50 years of service as a Wal-Mart associate.