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Sam Walton Leadership and Business SuccessSam Walton Leadership and Business Success


Sam Walton (1918-1992)


American founder (pictured right) of Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer and owner of the British supermarket, Asda.

Its first store opened in Bentonville, Arkansas, in 1962.


What were his tips about leadership and business success?

 Sam Walton Leadership and Business Success

1. Exceed customers’ expectations

Walton pioneered discount retailing i.e. selling a wide range of quality products at very low prices in a central location with long opening hours.

Everything he did was geared to giving customers the best value, service and variety.

“There is only one boss: the customer”, he said.


2. Super systems and low costs

To continually cut profit margins and prices, he:

 Sam Walton Leadership and Business Success

a) used computers

(to check stock levels and order new supplies).


b) was tough on suppliers

(getting big discounts from bulk buying)  


c) opposed trade unions 

(and their power to increase wages).


3. “Swim upstream”Sam Walton Leadership and Business Success

i.e. don’t blindly follow other retailers but innovate and introduce new ideas like price discounting.

Break the rules when you have to.



4. Great employees

He was fanatical about choosing talented people, stealing other stores’ best employees. What was his advice to get their peak performance?

  • push them with high expectations and tough targets. Sam Walton Leadership and Business Success
  • get them to work well together.
  • profit sharing.
  • communicate with them and listen to them.
  • appreciate everything and celebrate successes.
  • give people knowledge to make their own decisions.
  • boost their self-esteem.

“If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish”, he said.

 Sam Walton Leadership and Business Success

5. Care for the community

He was very conscious of his local image particularly when his stores started to bankrupt small businesses.

So he:

  • actively encouraged community initiatives like raising money for local charities.
  • offered college scholarships to high school graduates.


6. Hard work and visibility


  • lived for retailing (visiting his stores, checking people’s performance and working weekends).
  • introduced Saturday morning meetings for managers (much to the annoyance of their wives!)Sam Walton Leadership and Business Success

 Walton's wife, Helen, is pictured right in a 1981 family photo. 


7. Tough and determined visionary


  • liked to get his own way
  • was a tough negotiator (e.g. with suppliers) 
  • wanted Wal-Mart to be the world’s best retailer (not necessarily the biggest!).


8. Passion and enthusiasm

He loved retailing, and family vacations always included store visits!

His enthusiasm rubbed off on his employees.

 Every time he visited a store, he was a cheerleader, shouting:Sam Walton Leadership and Business Success

“Give me a W, give me an A, give me an L etc….what does that spell?”

 Walton's first store in Bentonville is pictured right.


9. Respect

Employees admired his down-to-earth charm, ability, drive and character (see point 10).


10. Character

He had great integrity, humility and rapport with ordinary people, despite being worth billions.


Key quotes on customers

“There is only one boss: the customer”.

“The key to successful retailing is to give customers what they want”.


Key quote on service-profit chain

The folks on the front lines – the ones who actually talk to the customer – are the only ones who know what’s going on out there.


Key quote on management

High expectations are the key to everything.


Key quote on empowerment

“If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish”.


Key quote on work

“I overcame every single one of my shortcomings by the sheer passion I brought to my work”.


Key quote on teams

Individuals don’t win, teams do.


Key quote on business success

Commit to your business. Believe in it more than anybody else.


Key quote on influencing people

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Loosen up, and everybody around you will loosen up. Have fun.

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