Sam's Show: The Spectacle of Wal-Mart's 1988 Shareholders' Meeting

by George Waldon  on Monday, Mar. 31, 2014 12:00 am  

Maybe this gutsy move might win him over for an Arkansas Business profile. That is, if I can complete a sentence before the security guards pounce on me.

They’re not those uniformed guys sometimes described as rent-a-cops. They’re the suit-wearing, Secret Service types — the ones with the earpiece and cord that disappears under the lapel and connects with a hidden walkie-talkie.

It’s hard to miss them stationed around the arena. They don’t seem to blink, and they always seem to be looking right at you, reading your thoughts. Looking into your soul.

Maybe it’s not such a good idea to rush the stage. Sam would probably decline an interview. Besides, I’m not sure if my expense voucher will cover bail either.

This occasion won’t allow the media to pose any questions for Sam & Company, but it does provide an opportunity to observe him and his crew in action — up close and personal.

Sam sets the tone for the first hour of the meeting — his hour — when he walks onto the runway still shuffling through his papers and announces: “I wonder what kind of agenda we’re gonna end up with?”

Until about 11 a.m., the shareholders’ meeting is a free-wheeling affair with Sam at its hub. And for him, audience participation is a must.

Some investors are recognized for the distance they traveled to get to Fayetteville. Some come from faraway lands like Spain, France and even a mythical land of sun and surf called California.

But these are the exceptions.

The vanguard of attendees is investors and associates from less exotic places, communities like Warrensburg, Mo.; Rockport, Texas; Malvern, Ark.; Johnson City, Tenn.; Lake Geneva, Wis.; Tuskegee, Ala.; and New Iberia, La.

“North Carolina. Murphy, North Carolina,” yells a high-pitched female voice from somewhere in the back of Barnhill Arena, adding to the list mentioned today. The down-home dialects of associates speaking at Sam’s behest are a mixture of twangs and drawls from the Midwest, Southwest and Southeast — Wal-Mart Country.

An Illinois woman steps to one of the microphones in the audience and dresses down Sam for not visiting her store as he had promised. Meeting the gaze of his accuser in this comical confrontation, he visibly flinches under the weight of her truthful words. Sam backpedals apologetically. She will not let him off the hook.



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