After Turning Around Walmart, Can CEO Doug McMillon Help Other US Corporations?

When CEO Doug McMillon took the reins nearly six years ago, Walmart faced slowing growth and increased competition from Amazon, grocers and the off-price channel.

Today, the Bentonville, Ark.-based company is a bright spot in the retail sector, posting better than expected revenues both online and in-store for the second quarter and subsequently upping its full-year guidance.

“Customers are responding to the improvements we’re making, the productivity loop is working and we’re gaining market share,” McMillon said in a call then with investors.

Now, the Walmart chief has assumed the chairman’s seat at the nonprofit Business Roundtable and will lend his leadership skills to help steer the way for today’s evolving breed of corporations. McMillon joined the Business Roundtable in 2014 and has lately served on its board of directors.

Last month, the group — which includes more than 180 CEOs from major companies including Macy’s, Target and Walmart — announced that it is updating its corporate governance principles so that it is no longer based on shareholder value alone, a standard that has served as the central tenet in each statement issued since 1997.

Instead, the executives pledged to work for the benefit of all stakeholders, by dealing fairly with suppliers, investing in employees, supporting communities and delivering value for customers.

McMillon’s appointment to the Business Roundtable — a two-year term, effective Jan. 1 — comes at a turbulent time for company leaders amid increasing political pressure from workers, customers and the general public.

“In the coming months, there will be extensive conversations about America’s future and the role business plays in shaping it,” said McMillon in an announcement about his new position.

But this won’t be the Walmart CEO’s first time tackling tough issues: As he ushers in the big-box chain’s 20th straight quarter of same-store growth, McMillon has made efforts toward boosting employee wages, promoting sustainability and limiting ammunition sales, as well as advocating against President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade policy.

Perhaps McMillon’s boldest move came early this month, when Walmart announced sweeping changes to its gun policy in response to last month’s mass shootings at two of its stores. In a memo sent to employees, the CEO explained his landmark decision to discontinue sales of short-barrel rifle ammunition and handgun ammunition as well as completely halt handgun sales in Alaska.

“We’ve been listening to a lot of people inside and outside our company as we think about the role we can play in helping to make the country safer,” McMillon wrote. “It’s clear to us that the status quo is unacceptable.”

The move highlighted Walmart’s exit from all handgun business, with the chief noting that its market share of ammunition would effectively be reduced from around 20% to a range of about 6% to 9%.

Other recent policy changes at the retail giant have touched on sustainability. In February, the company revealed a plan to reduce the plastic waste in its private-brand packaging, setting a goal to make all such materials 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. It was the latest eco-friendly push by Walmart, which in 2017 launched its Project Gigatron initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one billion metric tons by 2030.

Beyond its environmental progress, Walmart has sought better opportunities for employees, raising the starting wage from $9 to $11 last January as it reaped the benefits of a tax reform law that cut down corporate rates. This summer, McMillon implored Congress to hike the federal minimum wage to upwards of $7.25 an hour, arguing that the figure was “too low” and “lagging behind.” (The exec has also expanded the retailer’s benefits program and invested in worker training; however, McMillon has received backlash for earning $22.8 million for the 2018 fiscal year — a figure that’s 1,188 times the annual total compensation of its median associate.)

Under his leadership, Walmart now boasts more than 275 million customer and member visitors across its 11,300 stores in 27 countries as well as its e-commerce site.

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