Former Walmart President and CEO William R. Fields told the Auburn University Montgomery business breakfast audience today that the key to success is keeping it simple.
Fields, who spent 25 years under Walmart founder Sam Walton’s tutelage, said he learned two important lessons that have guided him in his more than 40-year business career.
Fields said the first is: “If you’re in charge, take charge.” The second is, “Do what’s right.” Both are part of his belief that simpler is more productive.
There are variations of the two themes and Walton had dozens of ways to express them. One of the variations is you have to be in control of yourself before you can take charge of others.
Fields, now a businessman with varied corporate board of director interests, was the speaker at AUM’s Continuing Education monthly business breakfast. His topic was “Leadership Lessons – Occam’s Razor.” Occam’s Razor is the theory that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.
The breakfast was sponsored partly by the Business Council of Alabama and the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama.
Fields also told humorous anecdotes about Walton, once the wealthiest man in the world.
Fields said Walton once peppered his backside with birdshot while hunting and strongly advised him not to reveal the mishap. Walton died in 1992, four years before Fields left the Bentonville, Ark., company after 25 years.
He also related how he countered a unionization attempt at a Cullman distribution warehouse by creating an Iron Bowl holiday for employees, allowing them off the day of the annual Alabama-Auburn football game.
Fields said Walton once dealt with an arrogant potential corporate executive who was courting Walmart business by ordering him to instruct the CEO to change into his tennis clothing in the town’s dirtiest filling station prior to a planned doubles match with Walton. When the CEO confronted Walton about the indignity, Walton said, “Bill, why did you make him do that?” Fields said it took all he had not to laugh.
Walton’s credo was keep the customer first, listen to and empower employees, and be the low-cost producer to remain in business. He focused on his customers and the people around him, Fields said.
“There is no brilliance in any of this,” Fields said, “it’s simply common sense.”
Fields also looked to the future of international trade and said the United States is behind the eight ball. He said the demographics of the United States is changing, which will necessitate cultural and business changes. “Your children will grow up in a different world,” Fields said.