Coughlin began his Walmart career in 1978 in the retailer’s security department. He became a protégé of founder Sam Walton and rose through the management ranks to hold several senior executive positions, becoming a key leader during the years of Walmart’s phenomenal growth in the 1980s and 1990s.
In an email to company executives, current president and chief executive officer Doug McMillon paid tribute to Coughlin’s contribution. “Like me, many of you worked with Tom over his more than 26 years with the company,” he wrote. “I know firsthand how much he loved our associates and this company.”
Coughlin was fabled for his ability to relate to associates and motivate them, inspiring extraordinary loyalty in the process. Typically he would visit around 500 stores and clubs a year — an average of eight to 10 every week.
“What you see and what the associates tell you is the fuel that makes Walmart work,” he said in a 2003 interview. “My job is to harness that energy. To do so, I make certain I’m exposed to the associates, that I listen, that I’m involved.”
Coughlin’s Walmart career ended on a negative note with his resignation in 2005 following accusations he had misappropriated funds through fraudulent reimbursements and improper use of gift cards. He ultimately pleaded guilty to wire fraud and tax evasion charges and was sentenced to 27 months of home confinement due to a variety of ailments that included heart disease and diabetes.
Despite that, Coughlin continued to be viewed as a keeper of Walmart’s early legacy, and some reports assert that current Walmart executives continued to visit him and solicit his advice.
Coughlin, who was born in Cleveland, is survived by his wife, Cynthia; three children: Kelly, Thomas and Michael Coughlin; a grandson; one brother; and four sisters.
Funeral services will be at 1:30 p.m. local time, Saturday, April 9, at St. Stephen Catholic Church, 1300 N.E. J St., Bentonville, Ark. Visitation is scheduled from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, April 8, also at St. Stephen Catholic Church.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to St. Edward High School, 13500 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, Ohio 44107; the Miller McNeil Woodruff Foundation, 6518 South Timber Ridge Dr., Rogers, Ark. 72758; or The Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton County, P.O. Box 448, Bentonville, Ark. 72712.
Arrangements have been entrusted to Stockdale-Moody Funeral Services of Rogers. Memories may be shared at stockdalefuneral.com.