Reviewed by Magan Cowart
In Don Soderquist’s “The Wal-Mart Way,” he explains much of Wal-Mart’s history as well as the motivation for the start of the world’s largest company. The book uses many facts and figures in explaining the path Sam Walton took in creating this company. Soderquist is the former vice chairman and Chief Operating Officer of Wal-Mart.
Sam Walton was born in Oklahoma in 1918. He attended the University of Missouri, and afterwards worked for the retailer JC Penny. During this time, Walton began to realize his passion for sales. He also discovered the importance of maintaining excellent relationships with not only customers but employees as well. A few years later, Walton set up his own retail store. It was at his own store that he learned lessons in the actual retail industry and how to increase profits. His business was successful, and a second store opened not too long afterward.
After learning from his chain of variety stores, Sam Walton and his wife Helen put up 95% of their money to open their first Wal-Mart store in Rodgers, Arkansas. Ten years after this first opening, 15 more Wal-Marts had been built. In 1972, Wal-Mart stock was offered with the New York Stock Exchange which allowed the company to quickly expand to 276 stores throughout the country.
Soderquist’s book could be viewed as an extension of “Made in America,” written by Sam Walton himself, and it approaches many ideas that Walton would value today if he were still alive. Walton recruited Soderquist in 1980 as his replacement, and after he passed, Soderquist became known as “The Keeper of the Culture.” His job was to watch over many of Wal-Mart’s divisions, including human resources, information systems, corporate affairs, loss prevention, and real estate. During his time with Wal-Mart, Soderquist believes he was able to stay true to his Christian beliefs and lived these out in his everyday activities with the company.
The book begins with the question, “Why another book on leadership and business success?” Soderquist responds, “I believe there is always a need for simple truths—no matter how often they are told. The book is full of simple but important truths.” It was written and aimed at small business owners and middle managers. The book is divided into 12 chapters in which Soderquist outlines the 12 reasons for Wal-Mart’s great success, and how they can be applied and help just about anyone. The ideas include The Vision of Sam Walton, Grow Your Dreams, People Make the Difference, Reinvent the Supply Chain, Create Supplier Relationships, The Customer is Boss, Technology: The Ultimate Change Agent, and Be a Good Neighbor. Each chapter uses details from Soderquist’s own experience with the company, as well as stories of real life business guru’s who have worked their way up the ladder. Many authors have written the principles in the book, but through Soderquist’s stories and quotes, “The Wal-Mart Way” is interesting and makes the reader feel like they are having a one-on-one conversation with the author.
At the end of each chapter, there is a section called, “For reflection and action,” in which the reader is able to answer personal questions about beliefs and strategies for reflection. Notes in the margins throughout the book quote great leaders, like Ben Franklin, who provide intelligent insight.
Wal-Mart has always used supply chain management practices. It has always prided itself on reducing its purchasing costs to offer the best and lowest cost to consumers. There are a total of 41 Wal-Mart regions, each with it’s own Regional Vice-President who works out of Bentonville. Wal-Mart has a high number of executives and managers who work out on the Home Office in Bentonville. Each region has approximately 11 districts and each district has around eight stores. District Managers work with Regional Personnel Managers who are also out of Bentonville. Regional Personal Managers make visits to stores weekly and have to submit several reports to the Home Office.
In my opinion, the type of management used by Wal-Mart is Total Quality Management. Their entire business revolves around providing all products at the lowest prices you can find. In TQM, once prices are lowered, productivity will increase, and the company can gain control of the market, which is exactly what Wal-Mart has done.
I believe “The Wal-Mart Way” is a great book for anyone seeking information on management. Not only does it entail much detail about the company itself, but also what more successful business can we learn from than the Wal-Mart Company?
The most amazing things about Sam Walton and Donald Soderquist were that they were willing to work hard and were committed to keeping this global company alive. Soderquist helped to turn a $43 billion company into one that would eventually exceed $200 billion. The qualities and principles of this man are what have led the store to great success.