FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The spotlight was on Walmart’s workers, or associates, at the company’s annual shareholders meeting early this month here.
Walmart president and chief executive officer Doug McMillon, speaking before a crowd of 14,000 at the Bud Walton arena, told associates that “you are our heros,” and said they would be the key to the company’s future success.
Associates from around the world were brought up on stage to introduce the company’s executives, as well as such celebrity guests as Reece Witherspoon, who emceed the event, Carol Burnett and singers Brian McKnight, Mariah Carey and Rod Stewart.
Walmart U.S. president and CEO Greg Foran described his first retail job, working as a part-time overnight stocker at age 15, and he reminded the audience that about 75% of the Walmart U.S. management team are people who started as hourly associates.
“We are a people business,” Foran said. “You — our people — make a difference.”
Foran also detailed Walmart’s recent investments in its domestic workforce. In February the retailer announced that it would spend $1 billion to increase pay and training. The starting wage was increased to $9 an hour, and it will be increased to $10 an hour in February 2016. Walmart also said that it would give employees more control over their work schedules. Foran said Walmart is also revising its sick leave policy.
Walmart is also changing its employee name badges, which will once again bear the slogan “Our People Make the Difference.”
The audience of shareholders and associates also heard from the labor-backed group OUR Walmart, which advanced a shareholders proposal calling for a minimum wage of $15 an hour, and another seeking the establishment of an independent chairperson for Walmart’s board of directors.
Those two proposals, and three others, were voted down according to the preliminary tally, the company said.
Walmart also announced that Greg Penner is succeeding Rob Walton as chairman. The move maintains the Walton family’s involvement in the company. Penner, 45, is Walton’s son-in-law, and he has served on the retailer’s board since 2008. Last year he was named vice chairman.
Walton, 70, is the son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, and he has served as chairman since 1992. He will continue to serve on the board.
In his remarks, McMillon described the company’s associates as the heroes of the unfolding story of Walmart.
“Now, this story of ours also has a plot twist,” he said. “Our customers are changing how they shop, and technology is opening up exciting new ways to serve them. Everywhere we operate, we’re seeing an increasing demand for convenience. Customers want to save both money and time.”
McMillon said the villains of the story are not Walmart’s competitors, but things like bureaucracy, complacency, a lack of speed or a lack of passion.
“So here’s the plan, McMillon said. “We’ll save customers money on their everyday needs with an easy shopping experience powered by people and technology. We’ll offer value, everyday-low prices; Convenience, we’ll be there when and where they want us; and merchandise, we’ll have the items they want and continue to be great merchants.”
Walmart intends to invest in its people and its technology in order to succeed in the years ahead, McMillon said. “With the right attitude, teamwork and commonsense, we’ll defeat the bad guys and win the customers’ hearts. We’ve got to make this business simpler and faster.
“We have strong competitors, but they don’t have what we do. They don’t have you: 2 million associates who want to make a difference.”