It’s always fascinating reading about what other people have accomplished in life. Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, was the richest man in America when he died in 1992 at the age of 74.
He started Walmart in 1962, so in forty years he had revolutionised retailing in America, received the Medal of Freedom and built the foundation of the soon-to-be-named biggest company in the world.
Whatever you think of Walmart (and there are certainly many critics), to set the pattern of growth for the biggest company in the world is certainly a great achievement. Today, according to market capitalisation, Walmart is not number one. And yet Walmart is still number one in the list of US-based Fortune 500 companies. This is a massive accomplishment!
The interesting thing about Sam Walton is that he was also a great father and family man. It is comparatively easy to make a million dollars and lose your family relationships in the process through overwork and neglect, but to build the biggest company in the world and sustain close family relationships simultaneously is very rare. How did Sam Walton do this?
In order to find this out, we must turn to Chapter 5 — “Raising a Family”, in Sam Walton’s autobiography, Made in America (Bantam Books, 1992). Sam and Helen had three boys and one daughter. Sam’s parents had been very good at quarrelling, so Sam set out from the start to promote a sense of togetherness.
Amidst Sam’s busy life, he always tried to be home on Friday nights so that he would not miss his children’s sporting games. His children worked in his store and also worked at their own paper runs. In Sam’s words, “We taught them the value of work!”
Sam and Helen also taught their children the value of fun. Every year, in the early years they would all pack into the family station wagon and go camping all over America.
They often had family votes about what they did, and Sam Walton, despite being a very driven man, was not prone to being too pushy with his family. To quote him verbatim, “One thing I never did — which I’m really proud of — was to push any of my kids too hard,” and yet he sure was able to challenge them.
John Walton said,
“I remember asking Dad for permission to climb a bluff overlooking the Buffalo River. He said, ‘Do anything you’re big enough to do’. What an exhilarating challenge of judgement and confidence-booster for a 12-year-old.
Later, when I was a young man trying to find my way in the world, he gave me an open invitation to join the Walmart team but never a hint of pressure. What a wonderful way to grow up.”
Alice Walton, the youngest child, said,
“You know it’s interesting. I know Dad worked incredible hours, and I know he travelled a lot, but I never really felt like he was gone much. He went out of his way to spend time with us, and he was fun to be with. He loved to play basketball with us. I tagged along with him on his trips a good bit, and I still visit stores because of it.”
From these excerpts and stories, you get a picture of a man who was a servant leader for his family, who respected his children and was fun to be with. Many of these character traits became the foundation stones for Walmart.
One might argue that Walmart has strayed away from these foundational principles over the years. It seems that ‘straying’ is part of the human condition. The good news is that all Sam’s children turned out pretty well.
Be inspired by Sam Walton’s pattern of greatness and be ‘fun to be with’.
Remember, life is too short not to have fun!
Yours for being fun to be with,
PS: Had a great time at the Online Men’s Leadership Summit. I will bring a full report next week.