John Furner, 42, started his new job as CEO of Sam’s Club on Wednesday (Feb. 1) by introducing himself on the Walmart Blog. Furner, who succeeded Rosalind Brewer, is not a stranger around Walmart. He’s logged nearly 24 years at the retail giant, starting at the bottom while taking a part-time job at the Bentonville Supercenter in 1993.
Furner said he was attending the University of Arkansas and when his band broke up, he had some free time and decided to look up Wal-Mart for a job. Furner’s dad worked at Wal-Mart for 17 years and he had no plans to follow in those footsteps. But then he said the way Sam and Bud Walton took care of his family when his mom fell ill left a deep impression on him.
“It was in that moment I knew how tremendously important people were to Walmart,” Furner noted in his blog. “I also knew I wanted to work for and with the organization that had provided so much support to my family. As I transition into this new role, I’m going to do a lot of listening, especially to the associates closest to our members. Like Sam said, ‘listen to everyone in your company.’”
Furner described his career at Wal-Mart as “an amazing ride” from his first hourly job to assistant store manager, assistant buyer, store manager, district manager and buyer, all by the age of 31. In 2006, Furner became a vice president and has since held various leadership roles in operations, merchandising and sourcing. He oversaw merchandising at Walmart China before joining Sam’s Club in 2015.
Humbly, Furner says he’s learned the business from “the bottom up.” He worked with Walmart U.S. CEO Greg Foran in China when Foran oversaw Walmart’s business in China. Furner credits Foran with strong leadership and keen focus on merchandise assortment, pricing and store operations.
Furner said he will be focused on simplifying the business and thinking differently. He sees lots of hard work and new opportunities ahead, noting that each employee will play a role in getting it done. Furner already announced his new leadership team and structure, which now includes his own e-commerce team devoted to SamsClub.com.
Furner outlined three areas where his focus will be from day 1:
- People — Focus on engagement among all levels within the company enforcing common goals
- Product — Make the products the hero.
- Digital — Commitment to accelerating digital transformation. Continue to move with speed in this space and use member data and insights to quickly adapt and meet the needs of the increasingly digital consumer.
Analysts are eager to see Furner make his mark on Sam’s Club, a solid business that has experienced lackluster sales growth over the past couple of years, despite positive membership growth. Furner is seen as an operator and merchant at heart and his early comments indicate an eagerness to make improvements across the board.