Walmart shareholders week underway, Sen. Sanders to attend business meeting

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 2,456 views 

Walmart CEO Doug McMillion (left) fist bumps with an employee during the 2018 Associates meeting at Bud Walton Arena. (photo courtesy of Walmart)

The first Friday in June is the standing time for Walmart’s annual shareholders’ celebration with its employees. Again this year, the retail giant has opted to divide its formal business meeting from the employee celebration into two separate events.

The formal business meeting will be held Wednesday (June 5) at 10:30 a.m. at John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers. The meeting will be streamed live on Walmart’s corporate website. The large U.S. associates celebration will be held Friday morning at Bud Walton Arena on the University of Arkansas campus.

There has been plenty of publicity around U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Democratic presidential candidate, attending this year’s business meeting to urge the retail giant to add an hourly employee to the Walmart board of directors. The proposal is backed by a shareholder group called United for Respect. Sanders has been an advocate for large retail employers to pay higher wages and increase benefits.

Other business will include the selection of directors which are outlined in the shareholder proxy filing. Shareholders will elect 12 directors. During the business meeting, shareholders will elect the board of directors from the 12 nominees outlined in the Proxy. All of the candidates are serving on the board and seeking re-election. They include four insiders and eight independent directors.

The Walton family owns roughly 50% of the company’s outstanding stock, and with votes of other Walmart insiders, the retailer is considered a controlled company making it difficult for shareholder groups to get proposals passed unless the family or executives support the ideas.

Walmart is hosting a free concert by Peter Frampton on Wednesday evening at Bud Walton Arena for employees while the media guests are given a tour of the Walmart Museum on the Bentonville square. The estimated 15,000 Walmart employees who travel to the region for the week-long activities visit the Walmart Museum on Tuesday, where they often exchange pins with one another, a tradition dating back decades.

The employees are housed at the University of Arkansas for the week where they attend meetings with executives, which insiders said is crucial in the ongoing training of the massive workforce.

Andy Wilson, a retired Walmart executive, said Sam Walton always wanted to make sure store management was keeping up with the business part of the company. He said the meetings held during the week are an important part of the company’s history. Wilson said splitting up the business meeting and shareholder celebration into two events is reverting back to the way the Walton family ran the meetings in the early days. He said the informal meetings during the week allow employees to hear directly from management and corporate leadership which was important to Sam.

The media will also have an opportunity to hear from top executives throughout the week. On Thursday, the media will tour Sam’s Club in Springdale and Walmart Store No. 5260 in Rogers. The media will hear a presentation by Walmart at noon at the Record in downtown Bentonville and there is a three-hour window for questioning senior leadership.

FRIDAY CELEBRATION
The big celebration will be held at Bud Walton Arena early on Friday, with the pre-meeting entertainment ramping up as early as 6:30 am. Shareholders will fill the arena and the business update and celebration will take place from 8 to 11 a.m. The festivities are typically a cross between a giant pep rally and motivational speaking event with entertainment intertwined throughout the three-hour extravaganza.

The host for the annual event is a closely held secret until being introduced on Friday morning. That’s unless they are spotted in town the day before. Walmart told Talk Business & Politics last year they have been trying to secure Ellen Degeneres for the past few years as host. The comedian and talk show host launched a new line of clothing at Walmart this year and perhaps this is the year she accepts the invite.

Prior year hosts have included country music singer and The Voice coach Blake Shelton, Jamie Foxx, James Corden, Reese Witherspoon and Hugh Jackman. Walmart has said it does not pay for the entertainment or celebrities who participate in the annual festivities. The company does cover their hotel accommodations and travel in most cases.

Most of the celebrities who participate have a relationship with the retail giant, either through offering their products such as the new clothing line inspired and endorsed by actress Sofia Vergara or the recent partnership with LeBron James to improve local communities. Walmart also donated $100,000 to the LeBron James Foundation last fall. In May, James’ personally curated a collection of items launched online highlighting some of the foods featured in the Fight the Hunger, Spark Change, initiatives that draw on his own experience growing up.

Following Friday’s celebratory meeting, the media and analysts who follow the company will take part in another question-and-answer session with corporate leadership before the meeting wraps up around 2 p.m. The official wind-down will take place at the Saturday morning meeting, which is off-limits to media but is one of the most attended of the year as many of those from out of town can take part in the tradition.

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