At Annual Meeting, Walmart CEO Addresses Inflation, Employee Pay

Walmart Inc. of Bentonville on Wednesday held its 52nd annual shareholders meeting virtually, the third consecutive year it has done so since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

The pandemic wasn’t first and foremost on the agenda, but rather inflation and wages. The retail giant reported first-quarter income in mid-May of $2.05 billion, down from $2.73 billion in the previous year.

Walmart Chairman Greg Penner said the company is navigating “some of the most challenging times of our history,” because of the lingering pandemic, the persistent inflation increases this year and continuing supply chain difficulties.

Earlier this month, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon had said the company’s first-quarter results were cause for optimism even though income was down. Revenue had been $141.57 billion, up from $138.3 billion.

“Our sales performance in the first quarter demonstrates that customers and members count on us to help them save money, especially during inflationary times,” McMillon said. “We missed the bottom line for the quarter so we continue to make adjustments to improve performance.”

McMillon said Walmart’s business strategy is to provide “seamless service” however customers want it, be it in-store or online. He said the company did $73 billion in e-commerce sales and wants to have a “stronger and more diversified” business model.

McMillon spoke of Walmart’s wage increases to employees and was later asked about the issue during a post-meeting Q&A session. He said, at the end of April, the company’s average wage for hourly employees was $17 and the average starting hourly wage was $15.70.

He said approximately three-fourths of the company’s salaried management personnel had started as hourly employees.

“Our goal is to turn even more jobs into careers by strengthening a ladder of opportunity for our associates,” McMillon said.

When asked during the Q&A session about whether $15 an hour is a livable wage, McMillon said the company focuses not just on wages, but on the additional benefits Walmart offers.

“We have been raising wages for quite some time now,” McMillon said. “We are happy to do that and proud of the progress we have made over the last few years. I suspect it will continue to increase wages as we continue to respond to the market if that is where the market moves.

“We are looking at a holistic program, trying to create an environment where people want to take on more responsibility, ideally move into a position of management.”

McMillon said supply chain issues were easing but not as quickly as he would like. He said he was more concerned about how long inflationary pressures would persist.

“I’m less worried with what is happening with container flow and more concerned with what is happening with inflation itself,” McMillon said.

In other business, shareholders followed the board's recommendation to approve all company proposals. The 11 nominees for the board were re-elected, with each director receiving affirmative votes from about 96.1% or more of the shares voted. Shareholders voted to approve the compensation of Walmart's executive officers, with approximately 91.2% of participating shares. They also voted to re-appoint Ernst & Young LLP as Walmart’s independent auditor.

Seven proposals submitted by shareholders were voted down: 

  • Report on Animal Welfare Practices: Received approximately 16.4% of the participating shares that were entitled to vote
  • Create a Pandemic Workforce Advisory Council: Received approximately 12.7% of the participating shares that were entitled to vote
  • Report on Impacts of Reproductive Healthcare Legislation: Received approximately 12.9% of the participating shares that were entitled to vote
  • Report on Alignment of Racial Justice Goals and Starting Wages: Received approximately 13.4% of the participating shares that were entitled to vote
  • Civil Rights and Non-Discrimination Audit: Received approximately 0.5% of the participating shares that were entitled to vote
  • Report on Charitable Donations Disclosures: Received approximately 0.9% of the participating shares that were entitled to vote
  • Report on Lobbying Disclosures: Received approximately 14.3% of the participating shares that were entitled to vote.