Friday, July 02, 2004

Made in America by Sam Walton

I have taken to reading business books lately, and looking for inspiration, I read Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton's Made in America. I didn't expect to like it --I have heard how Sam Walton fed the ugly appetite of American consumerism and killed small-town merchants in the process-- but I did.

Sam Walton is considered by some to be the towering genius in twentieth-century business (along with Henry Ford). He started his retail business in a small town in Arkansas with a population of 7,000, parlayed his capital and ended up with the world's largest retail business. I've heard that in some parts of the US, Wal-Mart stores are like gasoline stations; they are present every few kilometers. Four Waltons are now in the Forbes's list of Top Ten richest people in the world.

So what was Walton's secret to success? He enumerates some advice in the book, but what what strikes me was his fanaticism. The man breathed retail. His life was consumed by it. In the summing up chapter off the book Walton says that "If I wanted to reach the goals I set for myself, I had to get at it and stay at it every day. I had to think about it all the time."

Walton also commented on his reputation for parsimony. He still flew coach even after he became a billionaire, and he said he never bought anything brand new when he was starting the business. When they purchased merchandise in distant cities, they cramped as many people as possible in a room. Later on when Wal-Mart became a billion-dollar business, Walton would berate some executives for their ostentatious lifestyles. For Walton, lower overhead costs simply mean lower price tags for Wal-Mart customers.

Walton also retold some funny episodes in his life, like when he was spying in a competitor's chain store in California. The store's personnel caught him with his tape recorder while he was recording the prices and confiscated the tape. The son of the president of that chain store however was too kind and a few days later the tape was returned to Walton intact, with all the price quotations.

The book is a good read and I recommend it for anyone with time to spare.

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