Friday, October 21, 2011

...from Sam Walton

In 1962, Sam Walton began a business journey that became the world’s largest retailer and the biggest private employer, all behind one simple idea: save people money so they can live better.

Inspired by Walmart’s entrepreneurial story, I looked into the life and lessons of its founder. If a humble man with a simple idea –everyday low costs- could become one of Time Magazine's world’s most influential, why can’t we?

The 10 things I learned from Sam Walton & Walmart

1. Share business lessons with others
Before there was this blog, Sam Walton created a top ten list of his own. Among them, he offers his most successful business lessons on motivating, sharing, communicating, celebrating, listening, and five more. He also left behind a book about his story and the founding of Walmart in Sam Walton Made In America. As you become more experienced at work, take on the responsibility to share your knowledge with others around you. Start with mentoring and coaching and hopefully someday writing too.

2. Proactively interview the experts

Sam Walton was known to carry a yellow pad to take notes as he visited Walmart stores. Later in life, he would take a tape recorder to interview his store employees – and even Kmart’s - to capture ways to improve his business. Over the years, he collected lessons from industry experts, associations, and more into his business plan. As you develop your business, look for experts in the matter and interview them to learn. Many people opened the door to this unknown Arkansas business man who later turned out to be one of this country’s most powerful millionaires.

3. Acknowledge the importance of others

“Give me a W…” Walk into any Walmart early in the morning, and you’ll hear their corporate cheer that ends with “who’s number one? The customer”  From the beginning, he placed great importance in satisfying customers and he understood that doing that meant treating his employee’s right, which included one of the first profit sharing programs. Recognize that there are groups between you and your final customer and acknowledge the hard work they do to satisfy them on your behalf.

4. Experiment with new ideas

From the first Walmart store in Rogers, Ar to their Neighborhood Markets, and Supermercados, to the newly created Walmart Express in 2011, the largest retailer still follows an ideal that Walton began years ago. To grow, you need the will to experiment with new ideas. Some store formats failed quickly, but others - like Sam’s Club - became very successful overnight. Explore and try new ideas and encourage that behavior at work. If it works persist, if it doesn’t learn from it and try again.

5. Turn a bad experience into a positive one.

Before the stores we know today, Sam had a small Ben Franklin franchise in Newport, Arkansas. Although inexperienced at retailing, he grew it profitably in less than five years only to lose it to a lease renewal mistake. Rather than regretting the loss, he saw that as an opportunity to start again – now with the experience. His next project, the commonly known Five-and-Dime in Bentonville, Ar is what ultimately led to the first Walmart store nearby. Don’t let a loss get to you; see it as a way to start all over again even stronger. Don’t be afraid to fail and fail again as long as you can learn from it.

6. Live a simple life

Despite being Fortune Magazine's Richest Man just before he died, Sam Walton lived a pretty simple life. His upbringing and commitment to low costs forced him and his employees to save on everything – which included sharing rooms in low priced hotels. Even with billions of dollars, he still drove a red pick up truck and shopped for clothing in his own stores. An interesting remark from his book is when he questions why people would ever need to buy an island? Reward yourself for your success at work and enjoy the simple things of life, but remember Sam’s words “money is just paper”

7. Join and learn from expert forums

Sam claims to have gained great understanding of the business from his employee’s during his store visits. Nobody knew as much as those interacting with the customer. But he was also very actively involved in business organizations including Church, Scouts, Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, and the NMRI which he led for 15 years. By joining other groups, you’ll get the first hand experience from other experts and a network to do great things. Join clubs and associations in your area that grant you access to other great minds and partner for a greater good.

8. Have purposeful meetings

Early on, a tradition began at Walmart to meet on Saturday mornings to review the business and have nearby store managers learn from each other. The meetings still remain –only less frequent – with an expanded purpose: “share information, lighten the workload, and rally the troops.” Establish a purpose to every meeting you have and make the time count whether it’s to make a decision, work out a problem, or celebrate a successful result. A purposeful meeting is what keeps Walmart employees attending Saturday mornings.

9. Always do things differently

Sam credited a lot of success at his first Newport store to an Ice Cream machine he bought on a $1800 loan and set outside the store – an uncommon practice in small towns those days. Besides multiple business examples, Walmart practices this philosophy even in their stakeholder meetings. I was fortunate to attend the 2010 one in Arkansas and see Jamie Foxx, Enrique Iglesias, Mariah Carey and more. It was a business meeting unlike any other with concerts interrupted by coporate officers sharing yearly business results. Follow one of Sam’s 10 business principles and have “fun”. Break away from the mold and do thing things differently to get ahead of the more conventional competitors.

10. Stay connected to your business

With a competitive mindset to win and a commitment to work hard, Sam was very engaged in the business. But as the company grew it became harder to visit all stores, review every single number on Saturday mornings, or interview more than 400,000 employees at the time. His book has an interesting anecdote of him sharing donuts at 4a.m. with truck drivers to get the scoop on his stores and what was selling well. Despite his geographical and managerial distance, he found ways to remain connected to the business. As you climb the corporate ladder try to do the same.

His vision, societal contributions, and business skills were recognized by the US presidency’s highest civilian award. His legacy is unmet by anyone else, as Walmart became the world’s largest company. And to think, everything started from 10 simple business lessons learned along the way.

Although we don’t share the same fortune, I’m happy to know we share the same ideal – the essence of my blog:

It was a real blessing for me to be so green and ignorant, because it was from that experience that I learned a lesson which stuck with me all through the years: you can learn from everybody” Chapter 2 – Sam Walton, Made in America.

* Walmart and its logo are property of Walmart Stores, Inc.

1 comment:

  1. These were great lessons to learn and to remember and I am sure they would be transferable to any other business. Thank you for this post.