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Sam Walton
Sam-Walton.jpg
Born
Samuel Moore Walton

(1918-03-29)March 29, 1918
Died April 5, 1992(1992-04-05) (aged 74)
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Missouri 1940
Occupation Founder of Walmart and Sam's Club
Home town Columbia, Missouri
Net worth US$8.6 billion (at the time of death)
Spouse(s)
Helen Robson
(m. 1943; his death 1992)
Children
  • S. Robson Walton
  • John T. Walton
  • Jim Walton
  • Alice Walton
Relatives
  • James "Bud" Walton (brother)
  • Lukas Walton (grandson)

Sam Walton (March 29, 1918 - April 5, 1992) was the founder of the giant American retailer Wal-Mart.

He died a billionaire but was known for driving a pick-up truck instead of an expensive car.

Biography

Walton was born to Thomas Gibson and Nancy Lee Walton near Kingfisher, Oklahoma. There he lived with his parents on their farm until 1923. Sam's father decided farming did not generate enough income on which to raise a family, so he decided to go back to a previous profession of a farm loan appraiser. So he and his family (now with another son, James, born in 1921) moved from Oklahoma to Missouri. There they moved from one small town to another for several years. While attending 8th grade in Shelbina, Sam became the youngest Eagle Scout in the state's history.

Walton excelled physically in high school, playing basketball and football as starting quarterback for Columbia's Hickman High School in 1935, when they won the state title. While at Hickman, he also served as vice president of the student body his junior year and as president his senior year. He performed well enough academically to become an Honors student.

Growing up during the Great Depression, Walton had numerous chores to help make financial ends meet for his family. He milked the family cow, bottle the surplus and drove it to customers. Afterwards, he would deliver newspapers on a paper route. Upon graduating, he was voted "Most Versatile Boy."

Upon graduating, Walton decided to attend college, hoping to find a better way to help support his family. He attended the University of Missouri and majored in Economics as a ROTC Officer. During this time, he worked various odd jobs, including waiting tables in exchange for meals. Upon graduating, he was voted "Permanent President" of the class.

Walton joined JC Penney as a management trainee in Des Moines, Iowa three days after graduating from college. This position earned him $75.00 a month. He resigned from this position in 1942 in anticipation of being inducted into the military for service in World War II. In the meantime, he worked at a DuPont munitions plant near Tulsa, Oklahoma. There he met his future wife, Helen Robson, in the April of 1942.

Robson was the valedictorian of her high school class and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma at Norman with a degree in business. She was the daughter of L.S. Robson, a prosperous banker and rancher. She and Sam were married on February 14 1943.

Soon afterwards, Walton joined the military in the US Army Intelligence Corps, supervising security at aircraft plants and prisoner of war camps. In this position he served in the continental United States. He eventually reached the rank of Captain.

The first stores

In 1945, after leaving the military, Walton decided he wanted to own a department store. With some help from his father-in-law with a loan of $20,000, plus $5000 he had saved from his time in the Army, Walton purchased a store in Newport, Arkansas. The store was a franchise of the Butler Brothers chain.

It was here that Walton pioneered many concepts that would prove to be crucial to his success. Walton made sure the shelves were consistently stocked with a wide range of goods at low prices. His store also stayed open later than most other stores, especially during the Christmas season. He also pioneered the practice of discount merchandizing by buying goods wholesale. This allowed him to buy goods at a lower price, which he passed on to his customers, which drove up his sales volume, which allowed him to negotiate even lower purchase prices with the wholesaler on subsequent purchases. All of these concepts were novel at the time, but Walton put them to practice and the success of his store proved them correct. Due to his innovative approaches, Walton's store led in sales and profits in the Butler Brothers six-state region. One factor that made this store successful was its central location, making it accessible to a wide range of customers. Due to the store's enormous success, the landlord refused to renew his lease when it expired, desiring to pass the store onto his son. Walton sold the store back at over a $50,000 profit.

Before being forced to move out, Walton arranged for another location for a new store. Unable to secure a new location in town, Walton located a store in Bentonville, Arkansas. He named this store "Walton's 5 & 10" and was a franchise of another one of the Benton Brothers chains, the Ben Frankin chain. Walton made several improvements to the store before it opened in 1950. Walton staged a "remodeling sale" before its official grand opening in March the following year. In 1951, the landlord of the Newport store took over operations and Walton and his family moved to Bentonville.

In Bentonville, the Walton's became involved in numerous civic activities. Walton served as President of the Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce. He was also elected to the city council, served on the hospital board and launched a Little League baseball program in the city in 1954.

Innovative practices

Walton went onto found another store in Fayetteville, about 20 miles south of Bentonville. This store shared the same name as the store in Bentonville, but was not a member of the Ben Frankin chain. It went on to become as successful as the original 5 & 10. Of this time, Walton said, "I did something I would do for the rest of my run in the retail business without any shame or embarrassment whatsoever: nose around other people's stores searching for good talent."

His search turned up Willard Walker, a manager of a TG&Y variety store in Tulsa, Oklahoma. With Walker he did something else that is commonplace today, but was unusual for the time when he did it. Walton offered Walker a percentage of the store's profit, what today is known as profit sharing. Walton proceeded to visit the store once a week to handle any problems and reviewed the store's profit and loss statement once a month.

About this time, Walton introduced the concept of check-out counters at one location in the store. Registers throughout the store were moved to one location near the exits. Customers could be rung up for all their purchases and pay for them at one time, instead of paying for several things at several locations. Walton also insited that his stores be clean, well lit and on sharing profits with employees, increasing their loyalty.

Over time, Walton went on to open more stores with the help of his brother, father-in-law and brother-in-law. In 1954, he opened a store with his brother in a shopping center in Ruskin Heights, Kansas. He opened another in Arkansas but it failed to be as successful as his other stores. Walton decided to concentrate on retail business instead of the shopping centers and opened larger stores which were called Walton's Family Center.

Walton offered managers the opportunity to become limited partners if they would invest in the store they oversaw and then invest a maximum of $1000.00 in new outlets as they opened. This motivated the managers to always try to maximize profits and improve their managerial skills. By 1962 Walton and his brother, Bud, owned 16 variety stores in Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas.

The first Wal-Mart

The first true Wal-Mart opened in 1962 and in 1991 became the world's largest retailer. Currently more than 2 million people work for the Wal-Mart corporation.

Walton stated, "Each Wal-Mart store should reflect the values of its customers and support the vision they hold for their community." Wal-Mart has outreach programs led by local associates who grew up in the area and understand its needs. Wal-Mart tries to become involved in local communites by holding bake sales for local charities and by offering scholarships to a graduating senior from local high schools.

Walton was honored for all his pioneering efforts in retail in March of 1992 when he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George H. W. Bush.

Walton died in 1992 as the world's second richest man, behind Bill Gates. Wal-Mart Stores Incorporated also runs "Sams Club" warehouse stores. Wal-Mart stores now operate in many countries. Walton left his business to his three sons and daughter.

The wealth Sam Walton accumulated during his life has made his children and his widow very rich.

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