The world’s largest employers in order go like this: 1. United States Department of Defense, 3.2M employees. 2. Chinese People’s Liberation Army, 2.3M employees. 3. Wal-Mart, 2.1M employees. By every metric, Wal-Mart is one of the biggest organizations in the world. The company currently has a market capitalization of about $253B and had revenue of $470B in 2012. What is now a retail giant, was started as a local corner store in 1962 by Sam Walton in Rogers Arkansas. The company transitioned from a regional retailer to national giant in the 1980s and by 1988 Wal-Mart was the most profitable retailer in the United States. Wal-Mart now has over 8,500 stores in 15 countries under 55 different names. Here are four things you didn’t know about Wal-Mart.
1. In 1988, the company debuted the Wal-Mart Supercenter, where it provided a broad range of products for consumers. At the time, the company was in 27 states and became the most profitable retailer in the country. This was also the year founder Sam Walton retired and was replaced by David Glass who now owns the Kansas City Royals. The fortune of Sam Walton was divided evenly amongst his four children, who each inherited more than $25B dollars. His fortune would place him atop the world’s richest people’s list more than $30B ahead of current titleholder Bill Gates.
2. In 1991, Wal-Mart decided it was time to go international. Wal-Mart’s first international store was in Mexico City and served as a bridge to the rest of the world. Within three years, the company had 96 stores in Mexico. Today, 61% of the company’s 10,153 locations are international.
3. Vermont was the last state to get a Wal-Mart, but that took some work. As recently as this past summer, my fellow Vermonters are still putting up fights against allowing Wal-Mart into small towns that thrive on mom and pop stores. You can read some of those articles here, here, and here.
4. I have to begrudgingly admit that Wal-Mart is an innovative company. They have developed television networks, capitalized on healthier grocery alternatives, and created the most sophisticated supply chain methods in the world.
Do the ends justify the means? Wal-Mart has reached giant success so they are an easy target. Their ethical infractions include bribery scandals, bullying their way into new markets, intentionally putting other companies out of business, and employment discrimination by race and gender. Their corporate culture is fully aligned with their band promise and they live the “Everyday Low Prices” mantra. I have to wonder though, how would the company be different if Sam Walton were still alive? What would he say about the ethical violations and use of the power that comes along with being the largest company in the world?
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