Live long enough, and eventually, you will consider your legacy. Sam Walton will always be remembered as the founder of Wal-Mart. Yes, there are many good things that he was able to accomplish with his wealth. But Wal-Mart will always be first in everyone’s mind. Sam Walton worked hard all his life. And at the end of his life, when he was suffering from cancer, he naturally looked back and wondered. Did he make the best decisions in his life? His conclusion, as recorded in Made in America, was yes, he made the best decisions. He would not change a thing. Which is wonderful. A life without regrets is a life well lived. What about you? Will you look back at your life and think that you did the best you could? What regrets will you have? Don’t wait until it is too late to make a change.
While it is awesome when your employees buy in to your company’s culture and way of doing things, this buy-in can become a weakness. Employees start to believe that your way is the only way. This is especially true for employees who have only worked for your company. When you hear these employees say things like, “we have always done it this way,” you know you have a problem. Sam Walton was a big believer in experimentation. As he adapted new ideas, he forced his employees to adapt to change. I guess you could say that change became an important part of Wal-Mart’s culture. So as Wal-Mart grew, new ideas were adapted and old ideas were discarded. And Wal-Mart became a company of change. Yes, they experienced may growing pains. But management did not allow these growing pains to stop them. They made changes. And the company grew.
When Wal-Mart started growing, they did not have much of a distribution system, especially when compared to their competitors. Out of necessity, the company made the decision to only add stores within a day’s drive of a distribution center. While the competitors were haphazardly adding stores across the nation, Wal-Mart was growing from a central point, saturating the market as they expanded outward. This strategy had many unexpected benefits, such as lower advertising costs due to market saturation. But the most important thing about how Wal-Mart had to grow was management’s recognition of the advantages. In The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday wrote, “Great individuals, like great companies, find a way to transform weakness into strength.” For Wal-Mart, their weakness was a poor distribution system. But instead of internally blaming each other for their situation, management found a way to grow and developed their way into a winning strategy.
Like it or not, the people you hire will be the face of your company. As such, they will have a tremendous effect on your overall success story. Their interactions with your customers will determine whether you succeed or fail. Because unhappy employees will make unhappy customers. And unhappy customers will go somewhere else. As a business owner, you need to attract the right people to work for your organization. And the right people want to work for someone who takes an interest in their employees and provides a positive work environment. Sam Walton identified taking care of his employees as the “most important single ingredient of Wal-Mart’s success.” It is that important. So, if you have unhappy customers, look to your employees. Are you taking care of them, or are you neglecting your most valuable asset?
Sam Walton established Wal-Mart with two principles, low prices and satisfaction guaranteed. And he never wavered in his dedication to these principles. In fact, he was a fanatic when it came to having the lowest prices anywhere. Much of Wal-Mart’s early success resulted from this absolute dedication to low prices, not from doing everything right. Actually, there were many, many things that Wal-Mart was not good at in the beginning. But they stuck to their core principles. So, when people shopped at Wal-Mart, they expected low prices. And that is exactly what they received. All too often, businesses fail to understand the one or two core factors that have the greatest potential to drive their success. If you own a small business, what are your core values? What do your customers expect to receive from your company? If you do not know, it is time to start figuring it out.
Everyone experiences failure in life. But not everyone accepts a failure as the end of the road. Sam Walton was the founder of a highly successful retail chain. But he experienced failures, too. He just chose not to quit whenever he failed. Early in Sam Walton’s career, he franchised the Ben Franklin store in Newport, Arkansas. It was a terrible store. But he set a goal to become the most profitable Ben Franklin in Arkansas within five years. And through his hard work, he accomplished his goal. Unfortunately, Sam Walton had only signed a 5-year lease for the property. Now that the store was profitable, the landlord wanted the store and would not renew the lease. So, in the midst of accomplishing his goal, Sam Walton had to walk away from the Newport store. And that could have been the end of the Sam Walton story. But it wasn’t.
Sam Walton was passionate about retail. His passion drove him to create a great company and to achieve unimaginable personal success during his lifetime. No matter where he was working at the time, whether it was for J.C. Penney, as a Ben Franklin franchisee, or as the founder of Wal-Mart, Sam Walton always strived to be the best. Because when you are passionate about your work, you want to be the best. No one can deny the success that Sam Walton achieved. And I do not think anyone can say that Sam Walton’s success was a result of personal circumstances or a lucky break. Sam Walton was just simply a constant competitor driven by a great passion for what he was doing. You may not reach such financial heights by following your passion. But one thing is certain, you will certainly not be successful unless you follow your passion.