Walmart CEO remembers the late Claude Harris, company’s first buyer

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 2,061 views 

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon and retired executive Claude Harris at the company's 2022 shareholder meeting in Fayetteville.

One of Walmart Inc.’s early leaders died recently. Claude Harris of Springdale, the company’s first buyer, died on Feb. 25 at Willard Walker Hospice in Fayetteville. He was 93.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon paid tribute in a social media post.

“Without Claude, and the strong foundation he built, Walmart would not be the company it is today,” he said. “The service mindset Claude helped create at Walmart lives on in every merchant who has followed in his footsteps and in associates around the world. He was a champion of fairness, transparency and honesty. We’re still operating with the principles Claude helped us learn.”

Harris was a merchant for Woolworths in Memphis in the late 1950s when he met Sam Walton. Walton eventually convinced Harris to come to work within his Ben Franklin franchise. When Walmart began in the early 1960s, Walton asked Harris to start the buying division from scratch. Harris assumed other executive roles within the company and remained a direct report and personal friend of Walton’s until his retirement after 20 years with the business.

In 2021, in an interview with the University of Arkansas’ Supply Chain Research Center, Harris explained there was a difference between being tough and being obnoxious. But every buyer had to be tough.

“That’s the job,” he said. “We would tell the vendors, ‘Don’t leave in any room for a kickback because we don’t do that here. And we don’t want your advertising program or your delivery program. Our truck will pick it up at your warehouse. Now, what is your best price?’

“And if they told me it’s a dollar, I would say, ‘Fine, I’ll consider it, but I’m going to go to your competitor, and if he says ninety cents, he’s going to get the business. So make sure a dollar is your best price.’

“If that’s being hard-nosed, then we ought to be as hard-nosed as we can be. If you buy that thing for $1.25, you’ve just bought somebody else’s inefficiency.”

According to his obituary, memorial service details will be announced later.