Wal-Mart CEO Meets the Press

Dec 19, 2008

By Tom Ryan

On last Sunday’s "Meet
the Press," Lee Scott, Wal-Mart’s CEO and president, said his company
had "reached out" to President-Elect Obama’s team to work on
the U.S. health care and energy issues, adding that people critical of
Wal-Mart’s involvement in political debates were "on the wrong track."

"These are not times
to be self-serving," he said. "We have a responsibility to participate."

The issue came up after the new host of the NBC program,
David Gregory, noted that Wal-Mart has been criticized on health care
issues and on "driving down wages." He then asked Mr. Scott
whether Wal-Mart should have a responsibility in helping the government
with the employment picture.

Mr. Scott, who will retire
in early 2009, first said, "Well, we’ve been fortunate with our business
to have added 30,000 jobs here in the U.S."
while also noting that health care options have been improved for its employees.

But he then elaborated
on Wal-Mart’s overall role in driving public policy.

"We get, quite honestly,
some people who say we shouldn’t push for this energy policy, for this
reform in health care and that Wal-Mart shouldn’t be involved in that,
and I think they are just wrong," said Mr. Scott. "I think today,
more than ever, we have a responsibility to participate and I don’t mean
on the negative side, participating by just being critical of what is proposed,
but by being a partner in these solutions."

Mr. Scott noted that
Wal-Mart customers have noticeably changed their shopping behavior with
the downturn – including cooking more at home and buying fewer prescriptions –
but have "faith" in the

"We’re seeing that
our customers have a great deal of faith that the government will ultimately
take the right action and be successful in addressing the current situation
but the number-one issue today is their concern about their jobs," said
Mr. Scott.

Further backing up his
comments, Mr. Scott on December 16 issued a statement on the hiring of
former EPA head Carol Browner to the position of assistant to the president
for energy and climate change.

"Wal-Mart applauds
President-Elect Obama for his selection of Carol
Browner to lead the new administration’s efforts on energy policy and climate
change. She has a proven track record of working across a broad spectrum
and understands the role that government, NGOs and business can play in
order to drive meaningful solutions on this critical issue. She is the
right person to move the agenda forward and I look forward to working with
her in her new role."

Discussion Question:
Should Wal-Mart and other retailers be playing a bigger role in helping
guide the country’s energy, health care and environmental policies? What
areas should they be involved in and which ones shouldn’t they be?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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14 Comments on "Wal-Mart CEO Meets the Press"

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Carol Spieckerman
Carol Spieckerman
13 years 5 months ago

Retailers have an absolute RESPONSIBILITY to participate, particularly in environmental awareness and action. The fact is, the majority of US retailers have either just begun to explore sustainability, are paying greenwashed lipservice or are still sitting on the fence. This as billions of clothing SKUS are shipped to the US on unrecyclable plastic/metal hangers, trucks sit idling for hours at docks, and as store refuse gets piled into open dumpsters; first, when the store is constructed, then as day-to-day operations commence.

Retailers such as Macy’s acknowledge that they are following Wal-Mart’s environmental lead. Wal-Mart gained that lead, not by creating understaffed and siloed internal task forces and daring them to succeed but rather, by making sustainability a core value that permeated the corporate culture and a litmus test for its suppliers. Now that the trail has been blazed, retailers that haven’t taken meaningful initiative should be ashamed.

Mel Kleiman
13 years 5 months ago

This increased involvement should not only come from retailers but it needs to come from every segment of the market place. For example when it comes to workers. Over 60% of all workers are hourly and if you look at the number almost 30,000,000 are involved in retail and hospitality. What happen to these employees is a major concern for example in the area of health care. The industry is being asked to cover many of these costs and a way needs to be found to make the system work more effectively.

The key is we must do this out of a need to make the system better for all of us not just for special groups. The problem is that many seem to be out for number one and aren’t willing to respect the values that built this country.

Cathy Hotka
13 years 5 months ago

Retail has traditionally sat on the sidelines while policy has been made. Associations in other industries charge their members considerably higher dues than retail companies have been willing to pay. Getting retail companies more involved in policy-making would benefit not just the country, but the retail companies themselves.

James Tenser
13 years 5 months ago
I’ve been arguing in this forum for several years that Walmart has a particular ability to influence U.S. energy usage and economics. This is not true because Walmart has a corner on morality, but simply because of its scale and relative success. David B. is right (above): Only Walmart is big enough to do this. Even a coolly amoral Walmart, acting at best in its enlightened self-interest, has the potential to promote positive changes in our energy, healthcare and economic lives. Put CFC lightbulbs in store fixtures–drive down their cost to all consumers and boost production (this really happened). Put photovoltaic installations on store rooftops–drive down solar energy costs for all consumers and boost that emerging industry (this is about to happen). This type of leadership is more than an opportunity for Walmart; it’s a mandate that comes with success and scale. The company is so large and employs so many that it cannot help but track increasingly closely to our national economy. If the tide ebbs, Walmart sinks too. It’s that simple.
Jeff Weitzman
Jeff Weitzman
13 years 5 months ago

Joel and Gene have it right–anyone who thinks major industries or individual huge corporations like Walmart are not already heavily involved in shaping policy are naive. I’d much rather see a company like Walmart put its cards on the table and be an open participant in the dialogue.

Beyond the transparency of the process, I do think retailers have a right and even a duty to participate in public conversation. Corporations are “persons” under the law and in our society; they are affected by climate change, health care policy, and other decisions of government. Their interests may not be the ‘greater good’ of our society, but as long as they speak publicly, their views can be supported or opposed.

Joy Jentes
Joy Jentes
13 years 5 months ago

I also applaud Walmart’s efforts and their willingness to pull a seat up to the table with regard to healthcare reform. Given they are the largest employer in the US, they should be active in helping to find solutions. Also if you think about it–what is Walmart’s biggest strength? Driving cost out of the system. So why not apply this expertise to where we need it most in government and healthcare reform?

Jonathan Marek
13 years 5 months ago

Retailers need to stay focused on their businesses, which are large and complex enough to run. What the economy needs most is more vibrant, productive businesses. The other side of the coin are businesses that become too focused on political lobbying, creating unsustainable healthcare infrastructure, and the vanity of management, taking focus and energy away from adding value for customers. We call them names like “GM.”

Joel Warady
Joel Warady
13 years 5 months ago

Do you recall a few years ago when Sears was the largest retailer? And then Kmart was the largest retailer? Where are they now? If we had allowed these companies to help make decisions that resulted in policy, where would the country be today? If we would allow the car retailers, the retail bankers, the retail investment companies to help shape policy, I ask you…where would the country be today?

I’ll tell you where we could end up. A country heavily in debt, highly leveraged, on the brink of bankruptcy, with no real direction, and no idea how to fix the problem, and….

Oh…. Never Mind!

Gene Detroyer
13 years 5 months ago

Retailers (and all businesses) should be openly involved in policy that effects them and issues they can effect. They can put the issues in context. They deal with new ideas and technology. They eventually will have to implement the policies the government adopts.

However, whatever their involvement, it must be public and transparent. It must be deemed objective. There can be no secret healthcare plans as were developed and defeated in the Clinton distraction. There can be no secret energy plans as were propagated in the Bush administration. Their involvement must not lead to self-serving rules like not allowing government agencies to negotiate drug prices as was implemented in the most recent prescription drug bill.

Unfortunately, businesses have been involved in government policy. Their involvement of course is predicated on the amount of their contributions to parties and candidates and their investment in lobbyists. The results have not been good.

Max Goldberg
13 years 5 months ago

When I last looked, many retailers’ aisles were empty. Retailers should stick to retail.

Marc Gordon
Marc Gordon
13 years 5 months ago

Big mistake! Retailers and businesses in general should be staying out of any environment where public opinion can sway from one extreme to another.

While it may be the in thing to be mentioned in the same sentence as Obama, let’s keep in mind that the same thing once held true for George W.

It is important that every business do their best to control their own image in the market place. This is part of what effective marketing can do. Affiliations with celebrities (which is what Obama basically is) are unreliable ventures at best. Just ask the soft drink companies whose former celebrity endorsers included Michael Jackson, and OJ Simpson.

Kevin Graff
13 years 5 months ago

Here in Canada the retail sector is the largest employer in the country. To sugggest that the sector with the most employees should stay on the sidelines of these important debates is ludicrous. Who better understands a large group of employees, AND, at the same time deals with millions of consumers each and every day?
WalMart has it right. And so do the retail asssociations that represent the retailers in their ongoing lobbying efforts.

David Biernbaum
13 years 5 months ago

With all due respect to all retailers I believe that only Walmart is in a pivotal enough position all by itself to have significant impact.

Susan Rider
Susan Rider
13 years 5 months ago
Absolutely! This country needs its best and brightest working together for the good of all. Unfortunately, in the past many companies and individuals have taken a “hands off” approach to politics. Too busy with their day to day missions of running their businesses or building their careers, we have not had the benefit in government of their knowledgeable, talented and expert advise. Therefore, government many times has recreated the wheel or put policies in place that are absurd and dramatically and negatively impact business. Can we say Sarbanes Oxley…? If business people were involved in the decision could there have been a better solution without mountains of paperwork and developments of new departments without a paralyzing affect on business? Healthcare solutions will dramatically affect retailers and the energy crisis has already impacted them. So, why not have a seat at the table and be part of the solution? Some of our elected officials have never been in business and don’t understand the impact of their decisions. They listen to the “loudest” constituants. Any topic that… Read more »

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