Wal-Mart’s CEO Speaks To Competition

Jan 12, 2004
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Wal-Mart has its share of critics but some of them may be given pause after a speech yesterday by the company’s chief executive officer, Lee Scott, to kickoff the National Retail
Federation’s 93rd Annual Convention & Expo (The Big Show) at Jacob Javits Center in New York.

Mr. Scott’s presentation, which included a liberal helping of self-deprecating humor, focused on what he views as misperceptions about his company; prospects for its future;
and common ground and opportunities shared by all retailers.

As the largest retailer in the world, Wal-Mart is often cast in the role of the dark empire. Mr. Scott says that world domination is not what Wal-Mart is about. “We just want
to keep growing,” he said. “We don’t think we’re going to own the world. If you don’t believe it, just go to a Best Buy store in the United States on the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

Wal-Mart’s chief told the NRF audience that his company is looking for moderate growth this year similar to its performance in 2003.

“The first half of the year should be positive in general,” he said. “The jobs picture is important for the psychology of our customer. The fact that jobs are growing and not
being eliminated is very important to consumers.”

The chain is looking to grow in the United States primarily through expansion of Wal-Mart Supercenters. Mr. Scott said the company is testing a smaller, 99,000 square foot version
of the format for metropolitan markets that may not have the space to accommodate the typical 200,000 square foot unit.

Although Wal-Mart is known for James Bond-like secretiveness in its goal to maintain a competitive advantage, Mr. Scott believes there are areas where his company and others
could work together for mutual benefit.

“One of the problems is that we don’t come together to have a voice on the issues that affect us,” he said. We need to find what are the similarities between Neiman Marcus and
Tractor Supply.”

Another issue that needs addressing is escalating healthcare costs. Contrary to popular opinion, Mr. Scott wanted everyone to know “we do have it (health insurance).”

He called for government action to get a handle on the problems with the current health care system.

Mr. Scott also touched on Wal-Mart’s support of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology saying it would benefit consumers by helping to drive down costs.

Moderator’s Comment: What aspects of Lee Scott’s speech at the NRF Big Show did you believe were particularly noteworthy?

As speculated here and elsewhere, Lee Scott said that after getting an update on store performance, his second meeting of every day was with the company’s
legal counsel. Lawsuits, justified and not, increasingly take up more time of retail executives, whether its one with thousands of stores or only a few.

Mr. Scott’s call for tort reform has merit. Last week we came across a report of a shopper filing a suit against the retailer because a foot injury caused
by cans falling out of a Wal-Mart shopping bag that broke.

He also had some interesting views on Wal-Mart’s un-American activity – buying so much of its goods from China. Mr. Scott pointed out that even when Wal-Mart
supports a domestic business, there is no guarantee it will make it.

Life as we know it is changing, said Mr. Scott, and some of those changes may not be very comfortable. That’s the reality that we all have to deal with,
even Wal-Mart.
Anderson – Moderator

RetailWire’s report included in-person accounts of Lee Scott’s speech as well as reports from the following sources:

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