Sam Walton, One of US’s All Time Great Leaders Sam Walton was born on March 29, 1918 to Thomas and Nancy Walton on a farm in Oklahoma. In 1923, after realizing the farm would no longer be able to support the family, Thomas Walton decided to go back to his previous profession of appraising farm loans and relocated the family to Missouri. Due to the nature of Thomas Walton’s profession the family was continuously moving.
The constant moving allowed Sam Wlaton, the eldest son to become a survivor and gain a great passion for learning and adapting that ultimately facilitated the path towards becoming one of the richest and most successful leaders in the United States.
Throughout his life, Sam Walton exhibited qualities that could be categorized under the trait approach theory.
The trait approach theory states that leaders are individuals who are always out front and leading the way in the society and are gifted people who can do extraordinary things by possessing the following traits: intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity and sociability (Northouse, p.
19, 25). It is quiet apparent to see through Sam Walton’s accomplishment that he possessed all of these traits. Since Sam Walton was a young boy, he had what it took to get a head, get things done and make money. During the depression at an early age of seven Sam Walton helped to provide for his family by milking the cows and delivering magazines.
At the age of 13, Sam Walton had become the youngest boy in the state of Missouri to become an Eagle Scout.
Although, Sam Walton was not seen as one of the smartest kids in his class, his dedication and hard work eventually placed him in the ranks of the honor students. Sam Walton went to Hickman High School in Columbia, where he played basketball and lead the football team to the state title in 1935 as the starting quarterback. Sam Walton showed leadership potential early on by serving as Vice-President of his junior class and the President of his senior class.
Unlike the other kids, besides school, Sam Walton had other responsibilities. He continued to work in order to help support his family. By the the time he graduated high school, he was voted the ‘most versatile boy’ in his class. Sam Walton got his BA in Economics from the University of Missouri, all the while working by waiting tables, serving as a life guard and delivering newspapers. After graduating in 1940, Sam Walton entered his first retail job at JC Penny’s in Des Moines, Iowa as a management trainee making $75 a month.
In 1942, Sam Walton joined the Army for World War II, where he became the captain of the U. S. Army Intelligence Corps. While waiting to be inducted into the military, Sam Walton met his future wife to be, Helen Robson in 1945. Robson’s father was a successful banker and rancher who helped Sam Walton in starting his first retail business. Mr. Robson lent Walton $20,000. With the help of his father-in-law, Sam Walton was able to open his first Butler Brothers franchise as a variety store that became one of the highest sales and profit stores in the six-state region.
According to Northouse, when he states in his book, Leadership Theory and Practice, “although it is good to be bright, the research indicates that a leader’s intellectual ability should not differ too much from that of the subordinates” (Northouse, P. 20). Sam Walton had the ability to relate, work and learn from his employees, as well as his competitors (Huey, P. 22, 23). Walton learned from just about every person he came in contact with. He said, “Great ideas come from everywhere if you just listen and look for them. You never know who’s going to have a great idea” (Huey, P. 211).
To show his sociability, according to Lee Scott the former CEO of Wal-Mart, Walton would show up in the drivers’ break room at 4 AM with donuts and just sit there and talk to them for hours. Walton was amazed at how many ideas they always had in fine tuning the system. He would drill them by asking, “What they saw? How people were acting in the stores? Had they been to a certain store lately? And were things getting better? ” (Huey, P. 212) According to Katz, effective leadership depends on three basic personal skills: technical, human and conceptual. Katz argues that these three skills are very different than the traits of leaders.
He state that skills are what leaders can do and traits are qualities that made the leader who they are (Northouse, P. 40). Sam Walton was one who possessed all of the three skills, some better than others. Walton’s conceptual skills gave him the ability to bring new ideas and introduced services never provided by other retailers. His brilliant idea of providing a variety of goods for low prices under one roof has been the best idea anyone had ever thought of. The idea of making his stores centrally located, so customers were able to easily access the stores and having later store hours, especially during
Christmass, gave the Walton stores an edge over his competitors. Sam Walton’s conceptual skills gave him the ability to create a vision and strategically place the proper steps and people needed to make that vision into reality. Sam Walton experimented with discount merchandising, where he bought directly from the wholesalers by cutting out the middle men in order to bring the lower cost to his customers, therefore, giving him the ability to sell a great number of goods resulting in high sale volume and more profits.
One of the keys to Sam Walton’s success as a leader was his human skills. Katz defines human skills as having the ability to assist group members in working cooperatively as a group to achieve the common goals of the organization (Northouse, P. 41). While in college, he wanted to become the student body president. In order to win and make sure everyone knew him on campus, Walton would speak to anyone and everyone who was walking down the sidewalk. He would always look ahead and spoke to the individuals walking toward him and would start speaking to them, even if he didn’t know them.
If he knew them, he would always address them by their name, thus making sure everyone recognized him and considered him their friend (Huey, P. 15). To keep management motivated and performing at their best, Walton offered his managers limited partnership and allowed them to invest in the store they were managing. This kept the managers personally vested in the business and motivated them in keeping the profits to a maximum in order to insure the success of the store.
Walton also, made sure each customer was greeted at the door and set up his stores conveying the hometown identity. Each store honored a local graduating senior with a college scholarship and held bake sales to raise money for local charities. Although, Sam Walton possessed many great qualities as a leader, his technical skills fell short in some areas. According to him, he “never learned hand writing all that well. ” (Huey, P. 16) Nobody could read his hand writing. He wasn’t very proficient in keeping accurate details, like sales slips and cash register transactions.
Walton was known to be so disorganized that his manager at his first job in Penney’s stated, “Walton, I’d fire you if you weren’t such a good salesman. Maybe you’re just not cut out for retail” (Huey, P. 17, 18). Walton would schedule appointments and forget he ever made the appointments. He would constantly miss meetings because he simply would forget to make a note of the appointments. In analyzing Sam Walton’s leadership style, the style approach is very different than the trait and skills approaches due to the fact that the style approach focuses on what leaders do rather than who they are (Northouse, P. 86).
The “style approach suggests that leaders engage in two primary types of behaviors: task behaviors and relationship behaviors, [and] how leaders combine these two types of behaviors to influence others is the central focus of the style approach” (Northouse, P. 86). One of the things that made Walton a task oriented leader was his meticulousness on having the store shelves stacked properly. He was adamant on having the stores clean, and well lit. He would personally visit every store to make sure the stores were setup in the best way. Along with being task oriented, Walton focused greatly on his relationship behavior with his subordinates.
He would say, “Visiting the stores and listening to our folks was one of the most valuable uses of my time as an executive. But really, our best ideas do come from the folks in the stores. Period. ” (Huey, P. 230) Walton firmly believed in crediting when credit was due. He was known for giving recognition for the success of Wal-Mart to the associates and made sure information about the company’s goals and objectives were shared throughout the organization. It was obvious that Sam Walton loved to be in the retail business. But what he said he most enjoyed about retailing was seeing people achieve more than he.
He used to say: Listen to your people and respond to their needs. Recruit employees who have the capacity to replace you. Allow people to think and try new things. And create an environment that allows your staff to comfortably disagree with you. By allowing this type of atmosphere, as a great leader, one would enable people to provide the best route in meeting the organizational goals and objectives, as well as making you a great leader. Sam Walton’s leadership was most popular amongst his followers (associates, employees). The basic concept he followed and believed in was that “individuals don’t win, teams do. Sam Walton was presented the Medal of Freedom Award just a few weeks before his death by George W. Bush, “Then nations highest reward to be awarded to a civilian” (Wal-Mart Page). The presidential citation read: “An American original, Sam Walton embodies the entrepreneurial spirit and epitomizes the American dream. Concern for his employees, a commitment to his community and a desire to make a difference have been the hallmarks of his career. By sponsoring scholarships for Latin America, he has also worked to bring peoples closer together and to share with others the American ideals he so well represents.
A devoted family man, business leader, and statesman for democracy, Sam Walton demonstrates the virtues of faith, hope, and hard work. America honors this captain of commerce, as successful in life as in business”(Wal-Mart Page). One of the things Walton focused on was having engaged followers, a concept that has become very popular in recent years. Although, we are currently looking to discover different ways of keeping followers engages, Walton’s way was through profit sharing, by making his managers part owners in his stores, as well as by keeping every person in the organization informed of all its activities and seeking feedback.
Sam Walton believed that a happy employee meant happy customers and more sales. And by giving employees part of the company and making the employees success dependent on the company’s success, everyone would be a winner. Although Sam Walton was known as one of the most successful retailers and leaders, he had many critics. Walton was criticized for making Wal-Mart a virtual monopoly in the retailing industry. Where by his organization forced many local small businesses to close down. Some critics say that the expansion of the Wal-Mart stores brought down employee wages and working standards in the retail industry.
By diverting most of the small business owner’s customers to Wal-Mart, it impoverished small independent retailers and destroyed historical downtowns in small communities. In the 1980’s, the Wal-Mart sales had exceeded over a billion dollars with over three hundred stores across North America. By 1991, Wal-Mart was the largest retailer in the US with over 1700 stores. Walton remained president and CEO until 1988 and chairman until his death. Walton died in 1992 as the second richest man, behind Bill Gates.
He passed his company down to his three sons, daughter and wife. Wal-Mart stores now operate in Mexico, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, China and Puerto Rico. Sam Walton had done real well as leader because he had the intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity and the sociability traits needed to be a successful leader. His human and conceptual leadership style made him an amazing leader. His ability to be able to lead by task as well as nurture group relationships put Walton as one of the greatest leaders of all time.
Walton’s commitment to maintaining positive followership just added to his unique ability to possess all the qualities needed to be a successful leader. After analyzing Sam Walton’s leadership methods, I’m able to walk away with the following advice from the man himself, Sam Walton: “Commit to your goals, share your rewards, energize your colleagues, and communicate all you know, value your associates, celebrate your success, listen to everyone, deliver more than you promise, work smarter than others and blaze your own path” (Littlerock Website).
Bibliography Wal-Mart Visitor’s Center Wal-Mart Community Involvement http://littlerock. about. com/cs/homeliving/a/aasamwalton. htm http://walmartstores. com/AboutUs/9502. aspx http://www. davidgorman. org/articles/the-sam-walton-way. html http://www. leader-values. com/Content/detail. asp? ContentDetailID=1065 Huey, John and Sam Walton. Sam Walton: Made in America. Mass Market Paperback. New York: Bantam1993.