In many ways, Walmart is like a corporate Rorschach test: You see what you want to see. Because the company, its issues, its merchandise and its locations are so huge and comprehensive, any particular point of view can pretty much find what they’re looking for in Walmart.
That was in evidence today at the company’s annual shareholders meeting in Sam Walton’s original headquarters town of Bentonville, Ark. The Walton family, which still holds more than half the company’s shares, saw an enterprise founded by their forebear that remains among the world’s most remarkable.
Other shareholders saw a Walmart that concerned them because it has stumbled lately in terms of US sales, by getting ensnared in bribery investigations in Mexico and elsewhere, and because of its differences with other clothing retailers over how to help abate the destructive environment in factories in Bangladesh.[more]
If you were one of 14,000 Walmart employees brought from around the world to the meeting, including store workers and truck drivers, you generally liked the opportunity to shout and cheer for your employer, something of a ritual at the annual meeting. Even celebrity-watchers got some satisfaction out of the meeting and attendant events this week. Tom Cruise himself showed up to tout Walmart’s social responsibility, sharing sentiments that probably are not widespread in the Hollywood corporate-responsibility crowd. Actor Hugh Jackman actually hosted the meeting. Elton John and country crooner Luke Bryan gave concerts and Kelly Clarkson performed.
But if you were one of several dozen protesters that have been pestering Walmart this week—over issues such as the company’s not paying a living wage, not being unionized, and the Bangladesh and Mexico messes—you don’t like the company one bit more from having been in the belly of the beast or getting the opportunity to complain about Walmart at the meeting. Company executives didn’t significantly address such complaints other than to remind everyone of their integrity.
“You operate with integrity; our company was founded on integrity,” CEO Mike Duke told the crowd, according to NBCNews.com. “For Walmart, compliance is an absolute. Make no mistake about it, we will do the right thing.”
And just to make one crowd of onlookers especially happy, Walmart announced a new $15 billion stock-repurchase plan, its first in two years. That’ll make some of the chain’s disappointing recent numbers a little easier for shareholders to take.