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Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2022-12-17 15:01:09
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"One of the real values of our meeting is its spontaneity. We never really have an agenda. Of course thechairman always has his yellow legal pad with notes scribbled on it of things he wants to discuss, andsome of the rest of us do the same thing. But one of the things Sam will do is just call someone up at thestart and say, 'Okay, you conduct the whole meeting today.' And that meeting will take on the personalityof whoever's running it. That way, there's always a sense of anticipation. Something unusual may happen,or somebody may pull off something great."From the time we started the Saturday meeting, with just four or five store managers getting togethersomewhere to talk merchandising, it has been a very difficult thing to develop, and there's been a lot ofopposition to it, including from my own wife, who I've already told you believes it's unfair to take ourfolks away from their families on Saturday mornings. There have definitely been times when our folkswould have voted it out if we had given them the opportunity. But as I've said, I believe Saturday work ispart of the commitment that comes with choosing a career in retail. I can't see asking our folks in thestores to make that sacrifice while our managers are off playing golf.

"Here I was coming in as vice president, and it took some getting used to. The offices were still up onthe square in Bentonville, and Sam had just got through remodeling themwhich I'm sure was a greatimprovementbut in my opinion they weren't much. The offices were in an old narrow hallwayupstairssome were over the barbershop and others were over an attorney's office. The floor sagged upthere, about four inches from the wall to the center. And they had some partitions and some woodpaneling, and they were real little offices. It was very close-knit up there."Even if he couldn't tell it by the office we gave him, bringing Ferold in was an important step for ourcompany. I knew we had to get better organized than we were. We still had to build a basic merchandiseassortment, and a real replenishment system. We had lists of items we were supposed to carry, and wewere dependent on the people in the stores to keep good records of everything manuallythis was at atime when quite a few people were beginning to go into computerization. I had read a lot about that, andI was curious. I made up my mind I was going to learn something about IBM computers. So I enrolled inan IBM school for retailers in Poughkeepsie, New York. One of the speakers was a guy from theNational Mass Retailers' Institute (NMRI), the discounters' trade association, a guy named Abe Marks.

"The technology didn't really exist to do this for a retailer in the early eighties. But we got together withthe Macom & Hughes Corporation, and worked out a contract, and eventually we committed million to build it. We launched it in 1983, and I mean, Sam liked to killed me the first two years. It wasnot an immediate success. But we got it working, and now, of course, everybody has one."The satellite turned out to be absolutely necessary because, once we had those scanners in the stores,we had all this data pouring into Bentonville over phone lines. Those lines have a limited capacity, so aswe added more and more stores, we had a real logjam of stuff coming in from the field. As you know, Ilike my numbers as quickly as I can get them. The quicker we get that information, the quicker we canact on it. The system has been a great tool for us, and our technical people have done a terrific job offiguring out how to use it to our best advantage.

Our first big clue came in Saint Robert, Missourinear Fort Leonard Woodwhere we learned that bybuilding larger stores, which we called family centers we could do unheard-of amounts of business forvariety stores, over million a year in sales per store, just unthinkable for small towns. The same thingproved true to a lesser degree in Berryville, Arkansas, and right here in Bentonville too.

From day one, we just always found the folks who had the qualities that neither Bud nor I had. And theyfit into the niches as the company grew. Then every so often, we needed even better talents than wesometimes had on board. And that's when the David Glasses would come along. But there's a time for allthese things. I tried for almost twenty years to hire Don Soderquist away from Ben Franklin. I evenoffered him the presidency one time, and he didn't come. But when we really needed him later on, hefinally joined up and made a great chief operating officer for David's team. At any company, the timecomes when some people need to move along, even if they've made strong contributions. I haveoccasionally been accused of pitting people against one another, but I don't really see it that way. I havealways cross-pollinated folks and let them assume different roles in the company, and that has bruisedsome egos from time to time. But I think everyone needs as much exposure to as many areas of thecompany as they can get, and I think the best executives are those who have touched all the bases andhave the best overall concept of the corporation. I hate to see rivalry develop within our company when itbecomes a personal thing and our folks aren't working together and supporting one another.


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