The Evolution of Walmart Shareholders Meeting

June 2, 2014

Sam Walton at Shareholder's 1987

Humble Beginnings
The year was 1970. Walmart succeeded with its initial public offering (IPO), and a grand total of six shareholders attended the first meeting, held in a coffee shop near Walmart’s warehouse. Debuting at $15 per share, the run-up to $16.50 put smiles on the shareholders’ faces. The IPO was a success.

Now THAT’S Shareholder Value
Fast forward to today, where the number of Walmart’s shareholders numbers many thousands. Inside The Walmart Museum is a display case housing a 100-share certificate in Sam Walton’s name.  But the name on the certificate is not the story here. The real story is that the initial $1,650 investment in Walmart made by anyone holding a similar amount of Walmart stock back then would be worth over $10 million today. By any standard, that’s a great return for a show of faith in a growing retail company in an ultra-competitive environment.

The decision to hold the next shareholders meeting at the Coachman’s Inn in Little Rock, Arkansas, was based on some less-than-sound advice to attract big-city investors.  Unfortunately, even fewer people showed up at that shareholders meeting than the first. In fact, attendance, as they say, was a goose egg.

Back to Bentonville
Next stop: The Benton County Fairgrounds. For a year.  And then over to Bentonville High School, where a young Walmart assistant buyer helped decorate the gym for the company he would one day come to lead. That rookie was Doug McMillon, and the memories he has of those days are of a time of hope and great optimism.  (Apparently, that hope and optimism just kept growing stronger. Some things never change – and we’re glad about that.)

Back to the Walmart Home Office auditorium in 1985, where then-Governor and future President Bill Clinton reprises his earlier appearance at the meeting in 1980.

Graduating to the University of Arkansas
Finally, in 1987, Sam moved the shareholders meeting to the University of Arkansas, where it still takes place today. The early meetings were held at Barnhill Arena, where they took place until 1994, when the Bud Walton Arena was finally opened. Also named the “Basketball Palace of Mid-America,” Bud Walton Arena has a seating capacity of about 20,000 and was built in large part by a donation from James “Bud” Walton, Sam’s brother and co-founder of Walmart.

Since that first shareholders meeting in 1970, attendance has grown – as has the level of production and excitement. Now much more than a business meeting, Shareholders has evolved into a week of celebrations here in northwest Arkansas, with thousands of associates coming into the region from around the world. They’re greeted and thanked for what they do by Home Office associates, treated to special events and immersed in Walmart heritage. As the torchbearers of our culture upon their return to their stores, clubs and distribution centers, they share the experience with others.

And that’s the point: While the term “Shareholders” technically refers to owners of Walmart stock,  Shareholders week really does refer to those things we all share as Walmart associates: our basic beliefs, our culture, our history, and pride in our brand.  In a word? Heritage.