A New Leader Takes the Stage

By Walmart Staff
June 3, 2014
Doug McMillon

On Friday, Doug McMillon will take the stage at the Walmart Shareholders Meeting for the first time as CEO. This is his story of advancement and history with the company, as excerpted from the February 2014 edition of Walmart World Magazine.

Because he’s the youngest CEO to ever take his place in Sam Walton’s office, some may call Doug McMillon an overnight success — if 23 years with Walmart can be considered “overnight.” In 1984, at the age of 17, he joined Walmart, loading trucks at a distribution center in northwest Arkansas. It was the camaraderie, enthusiasm, and passion he saw in others that told Doug he was working someplace special.

“I was surprised when I started working in those trailers in the summertime,” Doug says. “I was working with people who were highly engaged. People who were doing hard work in the heat of the summer but enjoying it and talking about the company in a positive way—and with a genuine affection for Walmart.”

Romance on the Bentonville Square

While working on his college degree, he went to work for the Bank of Bentonville, now known as Arvest, where he met his future bride, Shelley. The young couple have two sons, who, like their parents, are proud of their hometown of Bentonville. Not surprisingly, it’s Doug’s family life that’s kept him anchored as he’s taken on more and more responsibility within Walmart.

Fishing Line—and a Note From Sam

Cut to Tulsa, Okla., where Doug completed his graduate studies while working as an assistant manager at a Walmart store. He had caught the Walmart culture bug—and a passion for retail. Following graduation, he followed up on a previous job lead and moved back to Bentonville, where he was hired as an entry-level assistant buyer managing the fishing tackle category. It was on his first day that Doug found a Post-it Note in a pile of papers on his desk. It was in Sam Walton’s handwriting, pointing out that a competitor had better pricing on fishing line. Doug points to that note as the spark that ignited his fire of urgency, a hallmark of Walmart business that’s served him well over the years.

McMillon the Merchant

He soon moved on to other merchandise categories, learning the ropes from some of the most talented merchants in the retail industry, working his way up to divisional merchandise manager in furniture and eventually a promotion to Vice President of Infants and Toddlers. In the ensuing years, his passion for retail and constantly improving leadership skills kept him moving up the ladder, working in International, then Sam’s Club, (both divisions he would eventually return to run), then back to Walmart U.S. According to Doug, electronics and toys were the most fun categories he’s led. An admitted technology buff, he jokes that he’s probably bought everything our stores have to offer in the electronics department along the way.

Leadership in the Sam Walton Tradition

In 2006, Doug was given the keys to drive Sam’s Club. Ron Loveless, Sam’s Club’s first CEO, sees Doug’s time leading the division as a time of great growth for Doug as a senior leader, calling him “refreshingly available, eager to listen, and always open to new ideas that could be beneficial to the business.” Like many others, Ron sees Doug as being cut from the same cloth as Sam Walton. “I always described Sam Walton as being forever a ‘student’ of the retail business, and I see Doug with this same attribute.”

“We Don’t Just Sell Products”

When Sam Walton received the Medal of Freedom just prior to his passing in 1992, he said that if we work together, we’ll give the world an opportunity to see what it’s like to save and have a better life. That vision is something Doug has worked hard to advance globally as CEO of Walmart International, his most recent assignment before taking on the top job he’s in today.

“We don’t just sell products,” Doug says. “Every time we save someone a little money, we’re helping them pay the rent or put a down payment on an apartment or home … put a few extra items into their shopping cart … or pay for their children’s education. We help them save money so they can invest it elsewhere and, literally, live a better life.”

People as the Engine of Our Culture

When he first took on the role of leading International, Doug brought his family with him on one of his first trips, so that they would better understand what he does for our company and our customers during the many grueling hours he spends around the globe. To many who know him, caring about how others feel is just “typical Doug.” He sees people as the key to our culture and a crucial part of the equation for success.

“Walmart culture is not about the poster on the wall, and it’s not just a feel-good exercise,” he says. “Walmart culture matters. It generates results, all kinds of good results—financial results that are positive, but also a positive environment as it relates to people. When people have a good experience, they generate good results.”

Opportunity Knocked, Doors Opened

It’s no surprise that Doug is the quintessential example of opportunity at Walmart. His story of promotion and advancement is echoed in the lives of associates who prosper every day in our company, both here in the U.S. and around the world.