Magazine article Workforce Management

Kudos to ... Wal-Mart?!

Magazine article Workforce Management

Kudos to ... Wal-Mart?!

Article excerpt

That CEO Lee Scott is now talking about how Wal-Mart can help be ethical and more environmentally friendly and health-care-focused represents a sea change in the company's traditional approach.

THE LAST WORD

THERE'S A LOT I don't like about Wal-Mart.

It's a huge American success story, but I have always found the stores to be crowded, cheap and tacky. Yes, prices are low, but the customer experience is terrible. There never seems to be anyone who can answer a simple question, and the checkout lines are always Disneyland-long and airport-slow.

Despite Wal-Mart's great success over the years, it's a place I try to avoid at all costs because it has always seemed to me diat the company's top leadership has been singularly focused on growth and profits at the exclusion of anything else.

Clearly, I'm not a big fan of Wal-Mart or its management-and that's why I'm surprised to find myself rooting for Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott.

Last month, Scott gave his annual start-ofthe-year address to about 7,000 Wal-Mart employees and suppliers at the Kansas City Convention Center in Missouri. There's nothing surprising about him doing that, but the tip-off that this might be a little different presentation was that fact that for the first time ever, Wal-Mart let the press in to hear him speak.

And what a speech it was. The New York Times called it a social manifesto, a "lofty address that at times resembled a campaign speech," and as our staff writer Jeremy Smerd reported on Workforce.com, "Scott [said] the company would redouble its efforts to improve the efficiency and reduce costs in health care, make environmentalfriendly technologies affordable to customers and businesses and exert greater pressure on its supply chain to meet higher ethical standards in the way it produces goods."

What surprised me most about Scott's speech was that his approach was different from that of, say, Bob Nardelli, the current Chrysler CEO and former Home Depot chief. A few years ago, Nardelli famously presided over a Home Depot annual meeting where he not only forced the board of directors to stay away, but where he also refused to answer any shareholder questions and used NFL-size guys in Home Depot aprons to intimidate anyone who tried to speak.

Although Wal-Mart's past approach hasn't been quite as pugnacious as Nardelli's, the company's philosophy has been to stonewall the press when the questions get tough: The Washington Post charitably described Wal-Mart as "traditionally reclusive," and CEO Scott surely signed off on that policy. …

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