Opportunity

From Part-Time to a World of Possibilities

When I was 18, I took a temporary job at Walmart for extra cash. Eleven years later, I’ve gained so much more: a challenging, satisfying career.

I had no idea that my time making cakes in a supercenter bakery would set me up for the chance to be store manager. But my seemingly small choice indeed led to something bigger, and I love to tell people about the opportunity and personal growth I’ve experienced.

After six months in the bakery I was given the option to move to the wireless department, where I showed enough initiative to be named department manager. My co-manager at the time encouraged me to apply for the company’s manager in training program. I was accepted, and I believe the trajectory of my life changed from there.

I went from being a quiet, insecure college student who was uncertain about what she wanted to a confident, well-spoken woman who now leaves a lasting impression on her co-workers and family. Right after the manager in training program, I visited my aunt and uncle, who told me I wowed them by being completely different – way more talkative and extroverted than ever.

Today, I use my newfound outgoing spirit to not only run my Neighborhood Market, but also to tell my associates about the path of potential I found. I love encouraging others and watching them blossom. For example, I can recall one of my associates who started out seeming unsure of himself, but after a few years and making connections with others in the store, he’s now a department manager. I can see his future: buying a home, sending his kids to college. Watching all this happen is like magic to me.

I want all my associates to understand the opportunities they have with this company. I didn’t know it on the first day, but as a store manager, it’s my job to ensure that as many associates as possible can see it – and seize it – from the start.

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U.S. Manufacturing

The Dish on Gumbaya: A Foodie Follows a Dream

When I moved from Michigan to Myrtle Beach, S.C., five years ago, it marked a new beginning for me. I was stepping away from 20 years in the insurance business, into a warmer climate and yearning to return to my culinary roots.

When I was growing up, my family owned a food processing plant. I was running a restaurant up north by the time I was 19. I’ve always been curious about flavors and what’s out there. Whenever I travel, I’m that guy who only eats local cuisine. And when I began digging into my new surroundings, I discovered the history of gumbo in the U.S. – which people naturally associate with Louisiana – can actually be traced back to South Carolina in the 1600s.

The first recipe I developed when I set foot in Myrtle Beach was my own gumbo. There were so many beautiful ingredients down here – fresh shrimp, whitefish, Andouille sausage, okra – and when I dipped my spoon into that first bowl, I had a moment. I thought, “This is it. I’ve really got something here.”

I knew this was a recipe that would make South Carolina proud. My gumbo immediately started winning people over at local farmers markets and festivals. I looked into opportunities to get my product on the market, from selling to local restaurants to partnering with a delivery service in the area. But the day the district manager at our local Walmart gave me 15 minutes of his time – that was the day everything changed.

That was Dec. 17, 2013. When I walked out 45 minutes later, it was with the understanding we had a deal. By May 2015, my Carolina Gumbaya was being sold in the frozen section of 17 Walmart stores in South Carolina. Today, that’s grown to 137 Walmart stores in five states, including Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

It really has been an amazing experience, to see so many people embrace this recipe I created in the kitchen of my own home. But when people ask me if it has taken me by surprise, I have to tell them, “Honestly, no.”

Frozen food has come a long way in recent years. Carolina Gumbaya – a name drawn from the words gumbo and jambalaya – isn’t packed with fillers and preservatives. The label doesn’t have words you can’t pronounce. There are 12 whole, wild-caught shrimp in every one-quart container. And the blonde roux I developed, along with my secret spices, are a few of the differentiating factors.

Turn on any food channel or open a food publication and you’re going to hear about the flavor of the South. It’s the South’s time to shine on the culinary stage – so products like mine have an opportunity to spread across the country. Along the way, Walmart’s commitment to domestic manufacturing is opening the door for small entrepreneurs like my business partner, Laura Spencer, and me. Products like Carolina Gumbaya are helping create jobs at growing U.S.-based companies like Duke Food Productions, the company who helps produce our product. These kinds of stories are a win-win for everyone. And we’re just getting started.

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Opportunity

Path from Army to NASA Leads to Walmart

I can still remember how the walls shook each time one of the space shuttles launched. Even though the launch pad was seven miles away, everything around me shook like an earthquake.

As a satellite engineer, I got to be close to the action. I had a lot of great experiences during my 13 years with NASA. I worked as a satellite controller – including the Hubble – and even built and tested rocket launching systems. It’s something I will never forget!

When my shuttle site was deactivated in 2012, that left me needing to find another job. I ended up moving from Florida to Wyoming to work as an engineer for a satellite TV company for a year. After experiencing a harsh winter and a nearly fatal car accident, I was ready to move back. 

I was excited to be coming back to what I considered my home state. I wasn’t born there, but Florida felt like home from the instant I arrived. It’s also where I wanted to start life with my soon-to-be husband. It was easy to make the decision to move back, but what I didn’t expect was how hard it would be to start a brand-new career there. 

I was very fortunate to have had a solid work history and had even spent eight years in the Army supporting communications for the Pentagon and the White House. I thought I had a great background that would help me easily find a new career, but I was trying to find a new job right when unemployment was high. It was hard for everyone to find work. I went on interview after interview, a lot of them hourly jobs, each one telling me that I was overqualified. What none of them understood was how badly I wanted to work and contribute to something bigger. It was hard being without a job and to be continually told no.

I applied at Walmart, but expected the same answer. It was an hourly job in a store – there was no way they’d tell me yes when so many others had said no. I’m so glad they proved me wrong.

Because Walmart gave me a chance, I can make Florida my permanent home and build a life here. They knew that the leadership and problem-solving skills I’d learned in the Army and at NASA would help me be a great associate. My experiences taught me how to manage people well and get them focused on the task at hand. And being in the Army taught me how to take the resources I had, analyze the situation and create quick and efficient solutions. All of these things really help you when working in a store.

I was hired as an electronics associate at store 1172 in Jacksonville, Florida. It was challenging and fast-paced. I loved helping people and I brought that attitude to work with me every day. After only a year, I was promoted to Homelines department manager. I’ve been with Walmart for just over two years now. I tell every associate that if you work hard, are conscientious, use initiative and quickly take care of the problems you see – you’ll be recognized. I only see opportunity here – there’s no limit to where you can go. What’s my next step? I love people and leading teams, so I hope to work my way up to be an assistant store manager soon.

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Life

From Lanterns to Lions, Ringing in Chinese New Year

Feb. 8 marks the start of Chinese New Year, China’s most important celebration for families. Also known as the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year is a weeklong public holiday during which families celebrate a year of hard work and wish for good luck in the coming year.

Those shopping in our stores in China see lots of Chinese New Year decorations and traditional foods stocked for this busy time. For readers who aren’t in China, here’s some background on the celebrations.

Traditional Family Meals

Before the first day of the first month in the lunar calendar, people all over China travel to their hometowns to unite with their families and decorate their homes in red — a color that symbolizes good luck and joy — and prepare for Chinese New Year celebrations. The night before the Chinese New Year, we prepare a feast made up of symbolic foods:

  • In Chinese culture, a fish course represents wealth in the future, while peanuts signify longevity and good health.
  • Some food symbolism in Chinese New Year dishes is more visual, such as hot pot, which involves simmering meat and vegetables in a round pot at the center of the table. The shape of the pot represents perfection and satisfaction.
  • Dumplings are an example of a food with a more historical tie because they resemble the gold currency — Yuanbao — used in ancient China. Today, dumplings are still thought to signify wealth in the coming year and are a delicious treat stuffed with different fillings.

Celebrations

Like with New Year’s Eve in the U.S. and other western countries, Chinese New Year involves staying up late. We light firecrackers at midnight, a tradition that dates back to ancient folklore. Though the New Year is a cause for celebration now, legend has it that Chinese villagers used to stoke their fires with bamboo to keep away a terrifying, sharp-toothed monster that arose from the sea at the end of the lunar year to prey on people and livestock. Now, we use firecrackers to celebrate the new year and also scare off any bad luck that might be on the horizon.

Celebrations culminate in the Lantern Festival, where people gather to admire the illuminated lanterns (some floating, some carried by children, some fixed as decorations) and guess riddles written on them. On New Year’s Day, people also watch lion dances, in which participants don elaborate, mythical lion costumes that seem larger than life — and eat rice dumplings.

One of our family traditions is for children and grandchildren to wish elders in the family good wishes for the new year and, in turn, the elders will give children a red envelope of money for good luck and to buy toys and books.  Children often sleep with the red envelope under the pillow to bring good luck throughout the year.

The Year of the Monkey

This year is the year of the monkey, the ninth of 12 animals in the recurring 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle. People born in the year of the monkey are believed to be energetic, witty and mischievous. I look forward to greeting the year of the monkey surrounded by my family and enjoying the snacks and festivities that come with the celebrations. No matter your Chinese zodiac, may the New Year bring good fortune to you and your family!

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Sustainability

Hold the Salt: A Story of Reformulating Food

Big change is coming to the grocery aisles.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has mandated that partially hydrogenated oils – most commonly found in industrially produced fats and oils – be eliminated as a food ingredient by June 2018. Research clearly shows a link between trans fats and cardiovascular disease. So a timetable has been set to take action.

A big reason why I work for Walmart is that we’re constantly looking for ways we can help people live better – oftentimes, before federal mandates like these are handed down. In fact, by the end of this month, we anticipate having successfully removed all partially hydrogenated oils from Walmart private brand food – such as Great Value – sold in our U.S. stores, a goal we’ve been working toward since 2011. But we’re not stopping there.

Simultaneously, we’ve been working to reduce sodium in Walmart’s private brand foods and national brand food products by 25% and added sugars by 10% by the end of December 2015. We’ve long since surpassed our sugar-related reformulation goal. And, while we’re tracking about 5% behind our sodium reduction goal – results through December 2015 are being vetted and will be announced publicly this spring – we continue to work toward completion and are proud of the precedent we're setting across the grocery industry.

There have been some big wins along the way to help us move the needle. One example was when we set out to reduce sodium in all varieties of Great Value Potato Chips and Great Value Kettle Cooked Chips. We successfully removed a combined 30 tons of sodium from 36 million bags of chips annually. And, according to test data, we did so without compromising taste. To put that into perspective, 30 tons is equivalent to an entire Walmart truck (cab and trailer) or about 70 Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

In the end, every slice of progress in the reformulation of the thousands of private and national brand food items Walmart sells contributes to a healthier tomorrow for our customers. But the reality is, you can’t simply go out and turn the dial down on sodium, sugar and trans fats and say, ‘We’re there. We did it.’ Our palates are accustomed to certain tastes, so the key is taking small, incremental steps toward long-term change. You're basically giving consumers’ palates a chance to adjust rather than shocking them all at once.

Every step forward involves extensive time, testing, evaluation and more. Many of the wins we’re realizing today are several years in the making – and, in most cases, there was no road map for how to get there. As senior director of private brand food initiatives, I’ve been deeply entrenched in helping develop a road map. We recognized, for example, that the majority of sodium in the diet of the average American comes from processed foods. So we’ve focused our efforts on the 47 most popular processed food categories, which include such examples as cheeses, cereal, crackers, canned tomatoes and more.

One interesting discovery along the way was that the sodium within the recipes of our own Great Value breads varied from one production facility to another. So by working with each facility to understand needs and challenges, we were able to develop a standardized process that, in turn, helped produce long-term results in sodium reduction. There are a variety of hurdles and challenges to reformulation work within private brands, and there is the potential for even more with national brands. But we’ve already proven that, with a relentless work ethic, real progress can be made in the areas of sodium, sugar and trans fat reformulation. We continue to identify and zero in on additional opportunities.

There was a day when all of this seemed so overwhelming. But we’re creating a road map. We’re building best practices. We’re growing relationships, learning from our experiences and helping to influence a healthier tomorrow. 

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