Creating Opportunity Across America

Published on February 26, 2015 and last updated on August 17, 2015

2015 Opportunity Nation Summit
February 26, 2015

2015 Opportunity Nation Summit

Remarks as prepared for Kristin Oliver*

Good afternoon!

It’s great to be here in a room full of people who are all working hard to create opportunity across America.

On behalf of Walmart and our 1.2 million US associates, thank you for your leadership in this important area.  We are honored to participate.

I know we all agree that opportunity is what our country needs right now – jobs and a better life for everyone – a chance to pursue the American Dream. 

Walmart Has Always Been about Opportunity
We believe that as the largest private employer in the US, we have a responsibility to lead in creating opportunity across America.

It may surprise you that we have been a place of opportunity since the beginning, a place where entry-level retail jobs can lead to careers. 

Take my boss, Greg Foran, the CEO of our U.S. business, and his boss, Doug McMillon, our global CEO. Both started in entry-level hourly retail jobs.

Their stories are not unusual. Over 75 percent of our store management teams started as hourly associates.

Paul worked for the airlines for a long time while caring for his aging parents and younger siblings. After his parents passed away, he quit his job and a friend suggested he look for work at Walmart. He started with us part-time in the electronics department. He got promoted… again and again and again. In just four year’s he’s risen to become a store manager. At Walmart, that’s a $100 million dollar business. He now earns six figures and manages hundreds of employees!

That’s the American Dream!

Another person who found opportunity with us is LaCeysha Garcia. She worked for the government and was serving in the Air National Guard. She took an hourly job with us to make some extra money but never envisioned a long-term career. Within 6 months she was promoted to a full-time supervisor and has been at Walmart for 12 years now. Like Paul, she now manages her own store.

We are so proud to have veterans like LaCeysha on our team.  We’ve hired almost 80,000 veterans since we launched our Veterans Welcome Home Commitment nearly two years ago.

LaCeysha says: “The biggest reason I have stayed at Walmart is because this organization embodies the American Dream. With hard work and dedication, the sky is the limit to what you can achieve.” 

Paul and LaCeysha are here with us today-- would you both please stand?  Thanks for inspiring us with your success! 

Investing in Our People
We are proud of our jobs and the opportunities that come with them, but frankly, we felt we could do better. As we’ve grown over the years, we’ve made some changes aimed at making us more productive, but some of these changes undermined the ownership and pride our people have long felt for our business. 

So we took a step back, and we listened to what our associates were telling us. 

As a result, last week we announced several changes – a $1 billion investment – that will kick off a new approach to our jobs.

As the chief people officer for our U.S. business, I am so excited about the commitments we have made. I’m sure many of you followed the news coverage, but let me briefly recap what we announced.    

In April, we’ll raise the starting wage for all associates to as least $9 per hour.  Next February, all existing associates will make at least $10 an hour.

Wages made the headlines, and we’re proud to offer better wages, but we’re doing so much more than raising starting pay. 

When we first started this work, we focused on scheduling, because for associates, it’s about the total paycheck, hourly rate times hours worked.  We’re currently piloting a program to give associates more choice in scheduling, either a more flexible or consistent schedule, whichever fits their needs, and plan to roll it chain wide next year. 

And because we know that it’s not about where you start, it’s about where you can go, we are introducing a new training program that is designed to give associates the skills they need to be successful in their jobs and to move up.  If you start with us, we want to make sure that your next job isn’t entry level as well, whether that job is at Walmart or somewhere else. 

The training program, which we call Pathways, will provide transparency to possible career paths, teach associates about the retail business model, explain the “why” behind the tasks they are asked to do, and give them a chance to develop soft skills that are so necessary for success in life. 

Along the way we’ll show them how their efforts directly impact their pay.

Starting in February, new associates will be hired at $9 an hour, go through Pathways for the first six months, and then upon successful completion, be paid $10 per hour. 

Ultimately, we want the skills they learn to be transferable. Our goal is for every associate to be better off for having worked at Walmart.Twenty percent of our associates are young people ages 16 to 24, and we want the training and experience they receive from us to provide the foundation they need for a successful career. 

One of the possible paths that entry level associates can choose to pursue upon graduation from Pathways is to be an hourly supervisor.  This summer, we’ll add even more hourly supervisor positions and make sure the associates who run complex parts of their business and supervise others make at least $13 per hour.  Next year, we’ll raise that to at least $15 per hour. 

We’ve made some enhancements to our benefits as well.  We offer healthcare and discounts on education, and our 401k policy allows all associates to contribute on day 1 of their employment.  

Full time associates get paid sick leave, paid vacations, and paid personal days now, but one of the thing associates told us is that they want to be able to use their sick leave earlier.  Next year we’ll make that possible.

Our Responsibility to Lead
As you all know, the road to opportunity is a journey.  For us it began 52 years ago when Sam Walton opened his first store, and last week was an important milestone in reaffirming his commitment to the American Dream.  All of these changes won’t happen overnight, but most will be implemented over the next year.

Having been a part of this work since the beginning, it was interesting to watch the news coverage following our announcement.  There was lots of speculation about why we did what we did.  I can tell you that we made this decision because we felt it was right for our associates, and right for our customers. 

Our associates agree. As you might imagine, our CEO received lots of emails from associates commenting on the changes we announced.  I want to share one of them with you today from a store manager, named Sara, in North Carolina:

“I have been with the company for 26 years and I have never been more proud that I am today because of the decision to invest back in our customers.

I had no idea what you were announcing this morning. I gathered my team in personnel and while we were waiting for you to come on one of my assistant managers pulled up the news announcement on his phone and passed it to me. As I was silently reading it, the tears started and I couldn’t stop. All I could say was “you are about to get some very good news.” Everyone cheered and clapped and there were more tears beside mine when you made that announcement. They were very optimistic and excited yesterday after the YBM meeting and they are really pumped up now! They are very proud of their company and I am too!

We can now attract better, more qualified applicants, our associates will take more ownership, and our customers will have a better shopping experience and our sales will increase because our associates will have more buying power!”

As Sara said, we believe that if we invest in our associates, they’ll invest in our customers, by creating a clean, fast and friendly shopping experience.  And if our customers like the shopping experience they receive from us, they’ll keep coming back, and every time they shop with us, they save money.  The money they save helps fund the American Dream – money in their pocket to pay for college, save for a house, or take a vacation. 

We know that through our size and scale we can have a tremendous impact – on our associates, on our customers, and on our communities. 

In the spirit of making an impact, last week the Walmart Foundation also announced a $100 million commitment over 5 years to increase the economic mobility of entry level workers.  We announced the first round of grantees here earlier today.  We are proud to be working with them and with you to better train and advance the 15 million US workers in retail and adjacent sectors.  For them to succeed, we must unlock their potential.  For America to succeed, we must unlock their potential. 

I appreciate the opportunity to be with you today. Each of us here has the ability to advance the cause.This is not a Walmart issue or an Opportunity Nation issue – it is an American issue.  The time to move is now! 

Thank you and please spread the news about our jobs – we’re always hiring!

* Photo courtesy of