Working for Walmart — and working for Walmart under Ray Hobbs — taught CEO Doug McMillon to have a sense of urgency, take ownership of problems and fix them, and have fun along the way, McMillon said Monday at Economics Arkansas' 2019 Stock Market Game awards luncheon in Little Rock.
The Stock Market Game is a national program of the SIFMA Foundation. It's been facilitated in the state by Economics Arkansas for the past 20 years. The nonprofit works to improve economic education in the state's K-12 schools.
Hobbs, president of the Economics Arkansas Foundation, worked for Walmart for 23 years, most recently as senior vice president of merchandising.
It was in that capacity that he met young McMillon on his first day in January 1991 as a buyer at the retail giant's corporate office in Bentonville.
McMillon had been assigned to Hobbs, who was supposed to arrive at the office at 7:30 a.m. but had showed up at 7:10 asking why McMillon was late.
"Lesson No. 1: Show up early,” McMillon said, getting a laugh from the crowd.
The second lesson Hobbs taught him was to double stack thin paper cups in the cafeteria that held coffee, so as to not burn his hand, McMillon said.
But the third lesson really stuck.
"While we were getting coffee, before I'd even been shown where I was going to sit, Ray told me a very important principal about being a business leader and about being a buyer for Walmart, both. And that is: You're responsible for everything," he said. "What he said was, 'Listen, in this job, when something is messed up, when something is not right, I want you to take ownership. It is your job to fix it, not to focus on how it might've gotten messed up or who did it, but to fix the problem, take ownership of the issue.' And that has served me well throughout my entire career."
McMillon also recalled finding a note on his desk that first day, signed by Walmart founder Sam Walton himself. It said the price for a brand of fishing line was lower at Kmart than at Walmart. He brought the note to Hobbs, who made Walmart's price the lowest within an hour. McMillon picked up yet another lesson: to have a "sense of urgency."
McMillon recounted a meeting where he spoke about an item that he’d gotten a better price on — a spray that made artificial bait smell like live bait to attract fish.
Walton led the meeting.
"Sam could tell that I was nervous and uptight, and, when I got finished, he had his hand on my shoulder," McMillon said. "And he said, 'That's all well and good son, but what makes you think fish can smell?'"
McMillon encouraged the students in the audience to start or join a business that embraces values that align with their own, because "you can use a business, large or small, to do good."
Walmart does good because lowering prices helps people save money, money that could pay for college tuition, rent or a car, he said.
McMillon said Walmart also does good by inspecting its factories in developing nations, investing in education and working to reduce its carbon footprint. He emphasized that good companies not only serve their investors and customers but make a difference in their communities as well.