Inside the empire of the world’s largest company

An excerpt of Tony Bianco’s new book, The Bully of Bentonville (via the Willamette Week online).

 H. Lee Scott Jr. looks every inch the chief executive of America’s biggest and most powerful corporation as he strides through the lobby of the Omni Los Angeles Hotel on his way to make the most important speech of his career. Wearing an expensive, well-tailored suit on his stocky frame, his hair carefully coiffed, and his corporate game face on, Scott shows no sign of his natural fear of public speaking. To the contrary, the 54-year-old executive appears eager for the chance to justify his company, Wal-Mart Stores, to the 500 business and community leaders who await him in the Omni’s ballroom.

The Omni—a luxury high-rise located in a solidly pro-union, politically liberal city—is an unlikely venue for the chief executive of an Arkansas-based corporation that is famously frugal, deeply conservative, and Southern-fried to the core. Wal-Mart already has 180 stores in California, but its ambitious expansion plans call for it to quadruple this total while moving from the outskirts into the heart of Los Angeles and the state’s other big cities. In many Golden State locales, Wal-Mart was being denied the zoning and other clearances it needed, and so Scott has flown out on this February day in 2005 to make the case for himself and his company in person at a luncheon sponsored by Town Hall Los Angeles, a nonpartisan group that immodestly but not inaccurately bills itself as a forum “for the most important thinkers and leaders on Earth.”

Scott takes the stage to polite applause and opens with an aw-shucks flourish reminiscent of the late Sam Walton, the disarmingly folksy “Mr. Sam,” who founded Wal-Mart in the remote Ozarks hill town of Bentonville in 1962. “I know that Town Hall Los Angeles has a national reputation for hosting conversations on the issues that matter—talks that feature prominent figures from the worlds of government, business, the nonprofit sector, and the arts,” Scott says. “It’s a little humbling for a shopkeeper from Arkansas to follow such folks to Town Hall’s distinguished podium.”

Scott soon discards the faux humility to offer a ringing defense of the embattled company where he has worked for 26 years. By selling vast quantities of goods at its trademark “Every Day Low Prices,” Wal-Mart has single-handedly raised America’s standard of living, saving consumers about $100 billion a year, he contends. “These savings are a lifeline for millions of middle- and lower-income families who live from payday to payday,” he says. “In effect, it gives them a raise every time they shop with us.” As Scott tells it, Wal-Mart also provides good jobs for hundreds of thousands of equally deserving employees, offers even part-time workers generous health insurance and other benefits, and contributes hefty tax payments to thousands of towns and cities from sea to shining sea. “I believe that if you look at the facts with an open mind,” he says, “you’ll agree that Wal-Mart is good for America.”

Hold it right there. When America’s largest corporation conflates its self-interest with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, alarm bells should go off in every city hall, statehouse and union hall in the land. Scott likes to call Wal-Mart an “agent” of the consumer, but this seems far too mild a description of a company of such size, power and righteous zeal. In the name of the shopper, Wal-Mart systematically bullies its workers, its suppliers, and the residents of towns and cities disinclined to submit to the expansion imperative of a company currently opening new stores at the rate of 1.45 as day. …

Read the rest here

See also the Bully of Bentonville @ Working Life

clock Posted Mon Mar 13th, 2006

About cPaul

Father: "He never amounted to anything". Mother: "Who the hell does he think he is"? Former Teacher: "Smart as a bag of hammers". Former Boss: "Condescending". Brother: "Mom loves me more".
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