Made in America: Sam Walton

If you want to hear Walmart story straight from the horse’s mouth, give this book a good read. This book is filled with timeless wisdom from arguably one of the finest entrepreneur of 20th century. It is also a good introduction to retail industry.

One thing that impressed me the most about Sam Walton was his driven, action oriented approach. Bear in mind through, his primary motivation wasn’t money. He was a down to earth man with frugality one of his life’s principle. It just so happened that he was driven for most part of his life to building the best retail chain in the world. 

Sam Walton was a voracious learner and willing to learn from everybody. This, I believe, was one his greatest strength. In his own words – ‘You can learn from everybody. I didn’t just learn from reading every retail publication I could get my hands on, I probably learned the most from studying what John Dunham was doing across the street.’

He visited more stores than anyone ever, always trying to learn how others were going about doing their business. I wouldn’t necessarily put him in the category of an innovator, but he wasn’t shy about stealing, borrowing good ideas from anybody.

Sam Walton was forty-four when he took Walmart public. He had been practising and perfecting the art of running a retail chain for almost 20 years prior to that. He wasn’t afraid to try new ideas and experiment. In his own words, ‘Like most overnight successes, it was about twenty years in the making’

He knew the boundaries of his strengths. He was persuasive with an uncanny ability to get the right people on board and get the best out of them.

After reading the book, I came away with the impression that his world rotated around the needs of the customer. He seemed to understand better than most people that an organisation is about delivering value to the customer.

One of the key things to takeaway is his attitude/approach towards change and operational excellence. He constantly worried about the ability to respond to change. Intuitively understood the importance of staying lean and nimble. ‘You can’t just keep doing what works one time, because everything around you is always changing. To succeed, you have to stay out in front of that change.’

On the importance of operation excellence, ‘You can make a lot of different mistakes and still recover if you run an efficient operation.

He was an astute observer and quite adept at reading trends. I wonder how quick would have Walmart been in recognising the radical changes internet would bring on retail industry if Sam Walton was still around. I guess we will never know for sure.

Reading the following lines in his book, I could help but think of Jeff Bezos.

Somewhere out there right now there’s someone—probably hundreds of thousands of someones—with good enough ideas to go all the way. It will be done again, over and over, providing that someone wants it badly enough to do what it takes to get there. It’s all a matter of attitude and the capacity to constantly study and question the management of the business.

In summary, definitely a worthwhile read.

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