Wal-Mart at 50: A Not-So-Short History Of the World's Largest Retailer

by Eric Francis  on Monday, Jul. 2, 2012 12:00 am  

1986

• With Sam Walton’s likely retirement a hot topic, speculation begins as to who will succeed the Wal-Mart founder. Leading candidates are two familiar names within the chain: 50-year-old president David Glass (“sharp in finances, a good listener, subtly demanding”) and 48-year-old CFO Jack Shewmaker (“a strategist, an innovator, and an organizer”).

• Walton tops the Forbes list of richest Americans with an estimated worth of $4.5 billion.

• Sell! At least, that’s Financial World magazine’s advice regarding Wal-Mart stock, which it calls “overvalued.” This opinion is pooh-poohed by a Little Rock broker for E.F. Hutton, who claims “they’ve been saying that for years about Wal-Mart” and it had never proved true.

• A decision to remove certain magazines from its shelves, including some rock ’n’ roll publications aimed at youths, results in criticism of Wal-Mart by literary, library and free speech groups. Responding to an American Library Association letter, President and COO David Glass says it is a standard policy to review merchandise periodically for “any items that we believe, in our opinion, to be offensive to our customers.”

1987

• Sam’s Club proves to be just as efficient a competitor in the wholesale market as its bigger sibling is in the retail market as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. buys out the 21-store Super Saver Wholesale Warehouse Club Inc., eliminating one of Sam’s Club’s competitors in one fell swoop.

• How big a deal is a stock split? In announcing another one, the company’s eighth, at the annual shareholders’ meeting in June, Vice Chairman and CFO Jack Shewmaker tells shareholders that a Vietnam veteran’s widow found in a closet the 200 shares her husband had bought in 1970. Factoring in the seven splits since they were issued, she now held 40,000 shares worth more than $1 million. (In fact, he understated her fortune, which would have been more than 50,000 shares worth some $1.7 million.)

• Black Monday. The Dow plunges more than 500 points. Sam Walton, the nation’s richest man, sees the worth of his Wal-Mart stock shrink by $1.5 billion overnight. “It’s paper, anyway,” he tells The Associated Press. “It was paper when we started and it’s paper afterward.” Of course, he’s still worth $4.8 billion — on paper.

1988

• While maintaining the title of chairman of the board, Sam Walton hands over day-to-day operation of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to David Glass, the company’s president and COO. This ends a good two years of speculation over whether Glass or Jack Shewmaker, vice chairman and CFO, will be tapped for the top job. Shewmaker retires instead — at the ripe old age of 49.

• Joe Chapelle, director of the newly created USA Division of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., announces the goal of removing all imported items from the shelves of American stores, while acknowledging it will be difficult to replace some items, especially those with high domestic labor costs, without raising prices.

 

 

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