Late night TV host adds edge to Wal-Mart shareholders meeting, execs say company positioned to transform

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,300 views 

James Corden, host of The Late Late Show with James Corden, was the emcee for the 2016 Wal-Mart Shareholders meeting held June 3 at Bud Walton Arena on the University of Arkansas campus.

It was the first shareholders meeting in Wal-Mart corporate history at which a Walton family member did not preside over the business meeting. Other than that, it was business – and entertainment – as usual. Or it might have been with an emcee other than James Corden.

Corden, host of The Late Late Show with James Corden and native of the United Kingdom, immediately put an edge on the event by saying he once worked for Asda – Wal-Mart’s U.K. retail operation. He told the audience gathered Friday (June 3) at Bud Walton Arena on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville to not applaud his Asda background because he only lasted four weeks.

“We had a different theory about that ‘big happy to help’ badge,” Corden joked.

He did praise the global retailer for its offerings.

“Where else can you buy a power washer, kitty litter and bananas?”

The edge – easily atypical for a Wal-Mart shareholders meeting – continued when Corden spoke about Greg Penner, chairman of the Wal-Mart Board of Directors. Penner was named chairman during the 2015 shareholders meeting, succeeding Rob Walton, the son of Wal-Mart founders Helen and Sam Walton. Penner married Carrie Walton, Rob Walton’s daughter.

Loud and somewhat uncomfortable laughter was the result of Corden saying Penner’s marriage had nothing to do with him being named chairman. Corden, with subtle sarcasm, said Penner earned the job by “working tirelessly for Wal-Mart.”

“He worked tirelessly at marrying Rob Walton’s daughter,” Corden joked, pulling a direct punch line out of the sarcastic setup, and launching another round of loud laughter and “did he really just say that!?” looks among the crowd.

About Wal-Mart Stores President and CEO Doug McMillon, Corden said he looked too young to have been with Wal-Mart more than 25 years, suggesting that maybe McMillon first began working with the company when he was three-years old. Corden said when he met McMillon he didn’t know whether to “shake his hand or lick his face.”

Penner and McMillon weren’t Corden’s only targets.

After introducing Wal-Mart Chief Financial Officer Brett Biggs, Corden hugged Biggs. And kept hugging him. A minute passed. Biggs suggested, while still being hugged, McMillon might get concerned. Corden said McMillon is not concerned, “He’s jealous.” The hug continued. Corden told Biggs “don’t fight it.” The crowd roared. Corden then gave Biggs several kisses on the cheek before ending the hug. Biggs immediately told the crowd that the hug was not part of the script.

Corden would later say with sincerity that he doubted any company has a better shareholders meeting than Wal-Mart.

“Most shareholder meetings are 12 really boring dudes in a room,” he quipped.

Entertainers for the meeting included Katy Perry, Andy Grammer, Maxwell, Jordan Smith and Nick Jonas.

But there was a business element to the meeting.

Penner assured the gathered employees and shareholders that the company is focused on growing “personal digital relationships” with customers. He said the company is able to invest in people and technology because the company’s “financial position is nothing short of incredible.”

On that point, Biggs later said the company has a goal to grow revenue in the next three years in the $45 billion-$60 billion range. To add perspective, Biggs said the company took 30 years to approach $60 billion in annual revenue, but is now in the position to add that much revenue in just three years. Biggs said the company has the “resources and will to transform this company for the future.” The company reported fiscal year 2015 revenue of $482.13 billion.

Company financials have improved in the past year. Bentonville-based Wal-Mart on May 19 reported net income for the quarter of $3.079 billion, down 7.8% from the same quarter in the previous fiscal year. However, per share earnings of 98 cents blew past the consensus estimate of 88 cents per share. Total revenue of $115.904 billion was up 0.9% compared to the same quarter in the previous fiscal year, and was well above the consensus estimate of $113.22 billion.

Wal-Mart shares (NYSE: WMT) received a boost from the better than expected net income, rising from around $63 prior to May 19 to Friday pre-market trading trending above $71 per share.

McMillon, in his keynote address, briefly reviewed the history of Wal-Mart before saying the company is now writing chapter 4, with the goal continuing to be helping people save money and have a “better life.”

“The headline is about technology,” McMillon said of the next chapter, adding that the next chapter “means we get to reimagine retail, again.”

He then outlined three steps involved in that reimagining. The first is the company’s ongoing focus on employees – aka, associates – by boosting wages, hiring more people and investing in more training. McMillon said taking care of associates is the best way to take care of customers.

However, customers are a focus, of which the retailer says it interacts with 260 million a week. Part of better serving customers may include using Uber, the online taxi service, to make what are called “final mile” deliveries to a home from a store or distribution point.

“This is our ambition globally: We want to be the first place busy families go to save money and time, especially on their everyday needs. We’re connecting all the parts of Walmart into one seamless shopping experience with great stores, easy pickup, fast delivery, and apps and websites that are simple to use,” McMillon said.

The third step is to better connect the company to communities. Part of that includes finding more environmentally friendly ways to source products and operate its vast network.

There were three shareholder proposals submitted the Wal-Mart Board did not support. One proposal asked shareholders to vote for the board chairman to be independent, that is not connected to the company or the Walton Family. Another proposal sought to change the company’s executive incentive formula. A proposal was also submitted that sought to require Wal-Mart to report its criteria for operating in “high risk regions.” All three proposals were rejected by shareholders.