Rob Walton’s announcement naming Doug McMillon as Walmart’s new CEO was barely out of the gate when the emails began pouring in. As one of the best examples of how career opportunity is a key part of the Walmart experience, Doug’s inbox filled with messages from well-wishers from around the globe. A great many of them were notes from associates who see his success as fuel for their own aspirations within our company. “If you can do it, so can I,” one wrote, echoing the sentiments of so many others who’ve written in.
Because he’s the youngest CEO to ever take his place in Sam Walton’s office, some may call Doug McMillon an overnight success—if 23 years with Walmart can be considered “overnight.” In 1984, at the impressionable age of 17, he joined Walmart, loading trucks at a distribution center in Northwest Arkansas. It was the camaraderie, enthusiasm, and passion he saw in others that told Doug he was working someplace special.
“I was surprised when I
started working in those trailers in the summertime,” Doug says.
“I was working with people who were highly engaged. People who were doing hard work in the heat of the summer but enjoying it and talking about the company in a positive way—and with a genuine affection for Walmart.”
Romance on the Bentonville Square
While working on his college degree, he went to work for the Bank
of Bentonville, now known as Arvest, where he met his future bride, Shelley.
The young couple have two sons, who, like their parents, are proud of their
hometown of Bentonville. Not surprisingly, it’s Doug’s family life that’s kept
him anchored as he’s taken on more and more responsibility within Walmart.
Fishing Line—and a Note From Sam
Cut to Tulsa, Okla., where Doug completed his
graduate studies while working as an assistant manager at a
Walmart store. He had caught the Walmart culture bug—and a passion for retail.
Following graduation, he followed up on a previous job lead and moved back to
Bentonville, where he was hired as an entry-level assistant buyer managing the
fishing tackle category. It was on his first day that Doug found a Post-it Note
in a pile of papers on his desk. It was in Sam Walton’s handwriting, pointing
out that a competitor had better pricing on fishing line. Doug points to that
note as the spark that ignited his fire of urgency, a hallmark of Walmart
business that’s served him well over the years.
McMillon the Merchant
He soon moved on to other merchandise categories, learning the
ropes from some of the most talented merchants in the retail industry, working
his way up to divisional merchandise manager in furniture and eventually a
promotion to Vice President of Infants and Toddlers. In the ensuing years, his
passion for retail and constantly improving leadership skills kept him moving
up the ladder, working in International, then Sam’s Club, (both divisions he
would eventually return to run), then back to Walmart U.S. According to Doug,
electronics and toys were the most fun categories he’s
led. An admitted technology buff, he jokes that he’s probably bought everything our stores have to offer in the electronics department along the way.
Leadership in the Sam Walton Tradition
In 2006, Doug was given the keys to drive Sam’s Club. Ron Loveless, Sam’s Club’s first CEO, sees Doug’s time leading the division as
a time of great growth for Doug as a senior leader, calling him “refreshingly available, eager to listen, and always open to new ideas that could be
beneficial to the business.” Like many others, Ron sees Doug as being cut from
the same cloth as Sam Walton. “I always described Sam Walton as being forever a
‘student’ of the retail business, and I see Doug with this same attribute.”
“We Don’t Just Sell Products”
When Sam Walton received the Medal of Freedom just prior to his
passing in 1992, he said that if we work together, we’ll give the world an
opportunity to see what it’s like to save and have a better life. That vision
is something Doug has worked hard to advance globally as CEO of Walmart
International, his most recent assignment before taking on the top job he’s in
“We don’t just sell products,” Doug says. “Every time we save someone a little money, we’re helping them pay the rent or put a down payment on an apartment or home … put a few extra items into their shopping cart … or pay for their children’s education. We help them save money so they can invest it elsewhere and, literally, live a better life.”
People as the Engine of Our Culture
When he first took on the role of leading
International, Doug brought his family with him on one of his first trips, so
that they would better understand what he does for our company and our
customers during the many grueling hours he spends around the globe. To many
who know him, caring about how others feel is just “typical Doug.” He sees
people as the key to our culture and a crucial part of the equation for
“Walmart culture is not about the poster on the wall, and it’s not just a feel-good exercise,” he says. “Walmart culture matters. It generates results, all kinds of good results—financial results that are positive, but also a positive environment as it relates to people. When people have a good experience, they generate good results.”
Opportunity Knocked, Doors Opened
It’s no surprise that Doug is the
quintessential example of opportunity at Walmart. His story of promotion and
advancement is echoed in the lives of associates who prosper every day in our
company, both here in the U.S. and around the world.
How You Can Succeed, Too
“Do your current job to the best of your
ability,” Doug advises. “Deliver results and deliver them the right way.
Second, do something extra. Volunteer for an extra project, pinch hit for your
supervisor, let people see that you can do more. Let them see you perform at a
higher level so they have confidence that you can handle additional
One of the many qualities that instantly endears Doug to everyone he meets is his good-natured sense of humor and easygoing personality. When asked about his greatest accomplishments during his time with Walmart, he quickly remarked: “One accomplishment was to avoid getting fired on my first day with the company in 1984. While driving to work, I rear-ended my supervisor with my dad’s Honda Civic. To this day, I’m thankful for his forgiveness because working for Walmart has been one of the highlights of my life.”
Doug will be sharing in the coming months just where he plans to lead our company. But one thing is sure: Our culture is in good hands with him as we continue to bring Every Day Low Prices to people around the world, saving them money so they can live better.
Our Culture Around the Globe
A Q&A With Doug McMillon
Walmart World (WW): You’re recognized as an executive steeped in our culture and experienced in how it plays out around the world. How easy or difficult do you find it to take the Walmart culture into other markets?
Doug McMillon (DM): I believe that the principles that underpin Walmart culture apply universally. I know whether you’re in Japan or Brazil or the United States, the concepts of being respectful, of excellence, of acting with integrity, and of the customer orientation all have some application everywhere. What I’ve learned is that over time an organization takes on the characteristics of its leader.
Even today, you find characteristics of Sam Walton all around the world because they’ve been translated into those organizations. Walmart culture has been embraced around the world by our associates today in stores, in our Home Offices, around the world.
WW: Our culture really has been a competitive advantage for us over the years. Could you share your thoughts on the role of our culture in our business success?
DM: I think it’s first and foremost the reason why the company has been successful and will continue to be.
The culture allows you to
change. It’s interesting. You’ve seen this in the history of some other
businesses. It’s not like anybody wants to bottle it up, lock it down, and say,
“This is what it is,
and it’s never going to be any different than this.” The principles of respect, strive, serve, and integrity stand the test of time. One of the things that’s embedded in our culture is a certain amount of humility that enables you to get better.
When technology changes your business, or a new competitor arises, you’re able to overcome it. That’s the key because this isn’t about just taking the Walmart Supercenter and stamping out 10,000 of them. It’s about learning how to change merchandising categories and approaches to store customers and marketing and everything that we do.
Associate engagement, keeping it fresh, keeping it contemporary, being a leader in those areas, are also parts of what it means to be a Walmart associate and to have Walmart culture.
WW: So our culture, you seem to be saying, is heavily reliant on more than just what we say.
DM: I would say that what we say matters less.
we do really matters. Walmart culture is much more about behavior, habits, organizational practices in the store, in the hallways, where people do genuinely demonstrate respect, and caring and high expectations. That’s the behavior we’re looking for. I hope that as we talk about culture, we’ll keep
The ability to strive for excellence and allow yourself to change frequently, and in some cases in very big ways— innovating with technology for example—is an example of where our culture has caused us to be successful.
Our honesty and transparency and our sincerity around improving—and fixing problems when we find them—are important parts of our culture, too. When we find something bad, we almost always end up becoming a stronger company because of the way we react to it.