Honoree Year: 2015
University of Missouri
Robert J. Trulaske College of Business
Area of Impact:
Consumer Goods or Services
From the first Ben Franklin store he purchased in 1945 to the retail empire that exists today, Sam Walton displayed the talents and perseverance that are the true hallmarks of success in business. Walton’s success lay in his ability to understand the market and create a business model that allowed for efficiency and growth. Walton located his early stores in smaller towns, not larger cities, unlike the major retailers of the time. To improve efficiencies, he emphasized logistics by locating stores within a day's drive to Walmart's regional warehouses and then distributed products through its own trucking service. Buying in volume paired with his delivery model allowed the sale of discounted name-brand merchandise.
The company has shown regular and continued growth throughout its history. Today, Walmart serves people around the world in retail stores, online, and through mobile devices. Each week, more than 245 million customers and members visit nearly 11,000 stores under 65 banners in 28 countries and e-commerce websites in 11 countries. With fiscal year 2015 net sales of 482.2 billion USD, Walmart employs 2.2 million associates worldwide and is the most influential business of its kind.
Sam Walton embodies the characteristics that define successful business leaders: innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. From his early Arkansas nickel-and-dime store to today’s retail empire, Walton developed a prototype for product distribution and sales that has become the most widely used model in today’s marketplace. It was innovative at the time to stock nickel-and-dime stores with a wide variety of goods and then to park those stores near their competitors. He also identified the risk in leasing retail space at high cost, when owning the property—and the adjacent retail spaces—not only allowed for a better investment but also enabled control over the competition. His entrepreneurial spirit gave him the courage and self-determination it takes to invest in new businesses.
Throughout this career, Walton remained grounded in service and community. He and his wife, Helen, generously established the Sam M. Walton Endowment in Business at the University of Missouri, in 1991, and became members of the college’s Davenport Society. In 1992, the same year of his passing, the University of Arkansas renamed its business school the Sam M. Walton College of Business in his honor. He has been recognized by numerous organizations for his influence and contributions, including the Mizzou Alumni Association Alumni Award, in 1976; the Citation of Merit from the Trulaske College of Business, in 1980; and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President George H.W. Bush, in 1992. Walton passed away shortly thereafter. It was during his acceptance remarks that he articulated what would come to be Walmart's official company purpose. "If we work together," he said, "we'll lower the cost of living for everyone ... we'll give the world an opportunity to see what it's like to save and have a better life."