Wal-Mart Stores CEO Doug McMillon on Friday asked Hoyt Williams, a 93-year-old World War II veteran who works as a greeter in Trion, Ga., if he had any advice for the audience. “Just hang in there,” Williams answered.
At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of November, Wal-Mart Stores rolled out the red carpet for several World War II veterans who work or whose families work within the retailer’s vast ranks. The event was held at the retailer’s Bentonville headquarters.
Williams served in the European and South Pacific Campaigns of WW II. After Potsdam, he was not ready to leave the military and return to civilian life so he was shipped to Seattle and then re-deployed to the Philippines until the war ended. Gary Profit, senior director of Wal-Mart’s military programs, said serving in both campaigns is rare, but then again so is someone who at 93 still wants to get more hours on the job.
Williams has been a Walmart U.S. employee for the 23 years, a job he told Talk Business & Politics he sought after retiring from a 40-year run in the grocery business in his home town.
“I told my wife when we left the grocery business and I was tired of mowing the lawn that it was time for me go back to work. I went down to my local Walmart and the assistant manager knew me. Her family used to buy groceries from me when she was a little girl. She said they could put me to work even though I was 70 years old and they did,” Williams said.
He’s grateful the job which he works 4 days a week, but said he’d like to get mores if the store manager would given them.
“Pay day is the best thing about the job,” he said. “I also like being with the people, retail is what I know,” Williams said.
He said over the past 23 years he’s had several jobs at his local Walmart store working in various departments including sporting goods, hardware, electronics and even fabric before transitioning to greeter nearly 4 years ago.
Wal-Mart has made clear its commitments to hire veterans of all ages. In 2013 Walmart U.S. committed to hiring 100,000 veterans in five years, but McMillon said the retailer accomplished that goal in three years. The company reassessed the goal in 2013 to hire 250,000 by 2020, setting the bar higher. Since 2013, McMillon said the retailer has hired 153,000 veterans and 19,000 of them have been promoted.
McMillon introduced Johnny Martin, who works in asset management for the Sam’s Club in Oklahoma City. Martin is in the U.S. Army reserves and has served three tours in Iraq – totaling more than 32 months. He has a master’s degree and still had trouble finding work after returning home in 2014. He said Target passed on him, saying he was “too professional” essentially over-qualified for the positions they had open. Martin said he kept a running total of his jobs applications – 152 – before he landed a job at Sam’s Club.
“I took an overnight position and thought I would work on finding career employment in the day. But I quickly saw it was working out and was promoted to a department level supervisory role in a short time frame. I was encouraged to apply for the asset management position at the new Sam’s Club but I thought it would go to some with lots more experience. I had only 14 months with Sam’s Club at the time,” Martin said.
Martin was called to deploy just after Thanksgiving for a short tour in the Ukraine.
“I have found Walmart’s commitment to veterans is not just an empty HR promise,” he said.
Other speakers at the Veterans Day event included James McDonough Jr.. director of the Institute for Veteran and Military Families. Together with more than $40 million in funding from the Walmart Foundation, IVMF has programs in North Carolina, New York and most recently San Antonio, Texas. The programs work to help veterans today returning from service transition back into the workforce, school or some other form of service.
He said someone retiring or coming home from extended service is jobless and sometimes homeless. While there are many programs and employers to help there is not anyone to help make the connections in what is a very fragmented sector. Helping veterans navigate the services and employment landscape is what IVMS does.
Rear Admiral Terence McKnight (retired) also spoke at the event about the service today in the 21st Century. He remembers well the call he got while serving in the Pentagon in 2009 to help try and save merchant Captain Richard Phillips who was under attack by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. During 2007-2011, was in charge of operations to chase modern-day pirates that were a threat to commerce.
“We have the greatest Navy in the world but we were not trained to chase pirates. I was the most scared guy out there. The Somali pirates do it out of desperation and annual income of just $350. Half of those pirates who go to sea don’t return. They have nothing to lose,” he said.
Keeping the passage clear through the Gulf of Aden is crucial to commerce as some 25,000 ships pass through there annually. At the time of the pirate crusades he said there was not enough Coast Guard and Navy ships policing the region. He said the first and second groups his team captured, were released because the U.S. did not have a plan in place on how to handle those captured. He said those who had the misfortune to be captured by the Russians were not as fortunate.
Walmart officials also encouraged the several hundred in attendance to support the “Green Light A Vet” marketing program the retailer introduced this time last year. Profit said the idea of replacing an outdoor light bulb with a green bulb is hit, so much so that the retailer ran out of green light bulbs last year. Walmart said it sold 2 million green lights last year, and Profit said supplies are good because they have a better estimate on demand.