Former Wal-Mart Stores Inc. executive Rollin Ford encouraged business leaders to “be the champion of your people” on Tuesday at the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s 20th annual Forty Under 40 luncheon at the John Q. Hammons Convention Center in Rogers.
Ford, who retired as executive vice president and chief administrative officer on July 31, encouraged the Forty Under 40 class to do right by their employees. “They’re trying to do what’s right,” he said.
Ford told a story about a time when Walmart, while under the leadership of former president and CEO Mike Duke, was invited to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, and Duke decided to have Harold, an employee whose job was to oversee the janitorial staff at one of Walmart’s store, do the honors.
“He always felt like the credit goes to our associates,” Ford said.
The bell was supposed to be rung at 9:30 a.m. However, Harold mistook a signal asking whether he was ready as the go-ahead and accidentally rang it about five minutes early.
When faced by the orchestrators of the bell-ringing production, Duke simply said, “At Walmart, we like to start meetings five minutes early.”
It brought levity to a situation that could have been tense.
“That could’ve been Harold’s worst day. That could’ve been Harold’s weakest moment, but Mike made him feel so good,” Ford said. “Leadership is not that you do germane or generic across a group of people. People don’t want to be treated as a number. They want to know that they matter, that you care about them.”
Ford worked for 33 years at the retailer, under and with “icons in retail” such as Jack Shewmaker, David Glass, Don Soderquist, Lee Scott, Mike Duke and Doug McMillon, he said.
During his career, Ford also saw intense growth for the company, with sales increasing from slightly over a billion dollars in 1983 to almost half a trillion dollars now.
In retirement, Ford serves on the boards of directors for John Brown University and Mercy Health System of Northwest Arkansas.
Tuesday’s luncheon was sponsored by Intrust Bank and also featured an honorees-only breakout session before the luncheon. About 400 people attended.
This year’s class marks the 20th to be honored by the Business Journal, which annually honors 40 individuals under the age of 40 who were nominated as best in class by their peers in all industries.
To learn more about this year’s class, click here.
Photos from today’s event are available here.