It’s easy to forget now, but Wal-Mart wasn’t always the dominant discount retailer in the world. As late as 1979, the Bentonville chain arguably wasn’t even the dominant Arkansas discounter. That effectively changed the morning of Friday, Dec. 21, 1979, when a Cessna 421 twin-engine plane carrying three vice presidents of Sterling Stores Inc. slammed into a fog-covered hill 4 miles southwest of Locust Grove, near Batesville.
The lessons Sam Walton learned during those early, successful years of Wal-Mart allowed him to build the most successful retail chain in history. And just like the times that he took his planes up to search for potential Wal-Mart sites, it was Mr. Sam himself who was behind the stick, deciding which direction to go.