Life After Wal-Mart Rich With Opportunity

by Jamie Smith ([email protected]) 736 views 

When someone retires from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. after many years of serving the retail giant, they are leaving with a head and heart full of information, expertise and wisdom. A growing number of executives who leave Wal-Mart and the supplier community find a second career as a speaker, writer and consultant.

Ron Loveless had the ability to retire at age 42, in 1987. He was the first CEO of Sam’s Club and he grew that company for four years before retiring. He began working for Wal-Mart as a stock boy and rose through the ranks to be one of the top executives. He got his first job with Wal-Mart through the help of his mother, who was Sam Walton’s housekeeper.

In his book, “Walmart Inside Out: From Stockboy to Stockholder,” Loveless talks about how he started out in Wal-Mart stores and about its culture. He was determined to keep his own voice in the book, although he was imparting valuable wisdom on how to succeed in the world’s largest retailer.

“I am just an old Arkansas boy and I wanted to keep that,” he said.

The book, published in April 2012, was born after Loveless saw how some in the rapidly growing Walmart organization struggled to maintain the original culture. He said many times when executives retire and write books about their experience, it’s CEOs writing for other CEOs. He wanted his book to be different.

“The culture is how that company became what it did,” he said. “That company was built on a lot of ordinary people working very hard. I wanted to help the average Walmart associate who would like to get ahead.”

Since retiring, Loveless has been busy in several ventures including becoming active in the film and music industry. He has also been an active consultant in Canada, the Middle East and other regions to help companies establish and grow retail stores.

Loveless said Wal-Mart is a great background to have, adding that he is always amazed at how well some of the early lessons are documented yet some do not follow what he and others learned in the early years.

“I’m talking about the how and what caused the success,” Loveless said. “We all learned lessons there that can be applied.”

Retail expertise is not necessarily what makes someone a success and it’s not all about what a person learns in business school either, he said.

“I’m not sure company leadership skills can be taught unless they are in your heart,” he said. “Sam (Walton) inspired people to work harder.”

When Coleman Peterson retired from his position as executive vice president of the People Division at Wal-Mart in 2004, he already had a plan in place. Now living in Hilton Head, S.C., Peterson stayed in Northwest Arkansas for several years to serve on various boards including Northwest Arkansas Community College and to create his consulting company, Hollis Enterprises.

He is involved in three areas of activity. He serves on three corporate boards (J.B. Hunt, Cracker Barrel and Build-A-Bear), is heavily involved in speaking engagements across the country to share his management and human resources expertise, and conducts one-on-one coaching work with individuals. A lot of his work – especially the speaking engagements – are tied around his book, “How to Get There from Here … The Ten Lessons that have Served Me Well.”

Peterson said his work in human resources played very well into his ability to take this next career step. He maintains his friendships in the area and the industry.

“Just because you retire doesn’t mean you retire from your relationships and your friends,” he said.

Peterson said something he sees make many people afraid to retire is that they can’t envision what is next in their life.

“They come to believe that their job is what identifies them,” he said. “That’s what I talk about in Chapter 8 of my book, which is to get a life. Your job is not you. People work in a job then they begin to identify their whole identity around their business card. To them, the idea of retirement is, ‘if I (retire), who am I?’”

Peterson said it’s important for people to remember that a large reason they became successful in their career is because who they are as people, not because of their business card.

“When I retired, I knew there were other things I wanted to do in life,” he said. “If you think about those while you work, you can start to have a vision for other things that can be presented to you after you retire.”

Carrie Perrien Smith owns Soar With Eagles, a company that offers publishing, coaching, a speaker’s bureau and training. One of her niche markets is working with executives as they consider retirement and want to start a second career as an author and speaker.

Smith often sees executives come out of the work place and want to take a long break before starting the next chapter in their lives.

“You can understand but if they are taking time off, the market is cooling for them and they are becoming less relevant,” she said. “They are not worth as much or booked as often.”

As executives consider retirement, they need to start planning what they will do after retirement while they are still employed, she said. Many organizations hire speakers at least six months prior to the event and a speaker needs a website, information sheet and often many other materials. All that takes time to prepare, she said.

“If I can get them to start preparing before they leave their company, I can get them into coaching and develop their keynote and their platform,” she said.

Learning to run a business is another skill that many executives also have to learn, ironically.

“Running a corporation is different than running a speaking career,” she said. “You have to know everything and be everything from the speaker to the marketing.”