Yesterday I was on a long commute from Atlanta, GA to Jacksonville, FL. On the radio was conservative political personality Sean Hannity. At one point during the show Sean Hannity had about an hour long interview with Wal-Mart CEO, Bill Simon. During the entire interview Sean Hannity lobbed soft-ball questions Simon’s way (because they were so easy to knock out of the park). Frankly the entire interview was disgusting and at one point Sean Hannity even said, “You guys should be advertising with us, we are huge supporters… I mean, I’m a Wal-Mart guy.” At that point I decided pull over and vomit.
The majority of the interview focused on two key things:
1. the fact that Wal-Mart employed around 100,000 veterans and a slew of elderly people, and
2. a barrage of criticism of anyone who has bad things to say about Wal-Mart
Sean Hannity basically slobbered all over Bill Simon’s metaphorical nether-region then praised him for being a true patriot and job creator. That got me thinking: Is Wal-Mart as bad as they say?
How Bad/Good is Wal-Mart, Really?
Like almost anything Wal-Mart is a mixed bag. They do create millions of jobs for people across America and they offer affordable prices. Their business model is perfectly legal and frankly a pretty good example of free-market capitalism. They found a niche (cheap retail) and used good business sense and leverage their size and power to capitalize on opportunities. Can I really complain about that? No, not really.
But let’s be honest. Wal-Mart is not the most considerate company either and that’s where I think they deserve some critique. And if Hannity wasn’t too busy massaging Bill Simon’s….ahem…ego in hopes of a little ad revenue perhaps he would have made this point too.
While Wal-Mart does provide a lot of jobs their overall business model has led to a corporate culture that is less than savory. Their retail employees are generally low paid and Wal-Mart corporate is notoriously difficult to deal with. I would even argue that this strategy will eventually lead to their own demise. Let’s examine.
For one thing I know of almost no one who thinks positively about Wal-Mart. Most people think of the less-than-pleasant atmosphere, their relatively rude and unpleasant staff, and the if you’ve dealt with them professionally – their corporate bully tactics. All of this culminates to a bucket full of ill will and general distaste. I, for one, would rather pay the Costco membership fee than go to Wal-Mart and I think more and more households are making that choice too.
Another issue I have with Wal-Mart is their overall lack of generosity. Sure their employees are relatively unskilled labor, but why not pay them a bit better to attract better talent? In fact, the head of Wal-Mart’s food chain sports a number of billionaire’s. Who needs a billion dollars and why not spread the wealth? I’m all for capitalism and reaping the rewards of hard work, but what does it say about the upper management of Wal-Mart that doesn’t spread the wealth voluntarily?
I look at Costco’s CEO, for example, who takes a salary of $500,000 a year. The rest is spread to employees of the company who all work full time jobs that pay a good wage with benefits. The result is great customer service, a nice shopping atmosphere, and even (in my opinion) better customers.
What I’m saying is…
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I can’t knock Wal-Mart for being hard-core capitalist predators. I can’t say bad things about the number of jobs they provide, their low prices, or even their no-nonsense business practices. I guess that is what a business does. They are responsible to their shareholders for growth.
BUT what I can critique is their leader’s refusal to give up a little of their own wealth and success willingly to promote a little corporate consciousness. In the long run, I would argue, it would actually help their brand.
I also think this is a good example of why you can’t listen to anyone in the media. They are too concerned with ad dollars and not concerned enough with asking good questions.