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Here’s what Walmart CEO Doug McMillon thinks of the pushback against stakeholder capitalism

June 7, 2022, 9:26 AM UTC
Updated June 7, 2022, 8:05 PM UTC

Good morning.

The word “woke” doesn’t attach well to Doug McMillon. The Walmart CEO was born in Memphis, grew up in Arkansas, and started his career at the giant retail company while in high school, loading trucks. “They tend to give the rookies the heavier stuff to lift,” he recalls. “That’s one of the things I learned.”

So the fact that McMillon, who was our guest on this week’s episode of Leadership Next, has emerged as one of the leading advocates of a stakeholder approach to business is worthy of note. In 2020, he committed Walmart to becoming “a regenerative company.” Just in case anyone thinks that’s a meaningless phrase, he moves quickly to actions. On the environment:

“We’ve got Project Gigaton underway right now with about 4,500 suppliers, where we’ve already had them report they’ve saved over 500 million metric tons of greenhouse gases. But it’s not enough…Becoming regenerative means that you take nature, and you take humanity, and you put it even more into the center of your decision-making.”

McMillon doesn’t have the luxury of playing on one side of the partisan divide. As head of the largest company in the world, with the most employees and the most customers, he is a smiling amalgam of contradictions: red state and blue state, tech and brick-and-mortar, blue collar and new collar. When I ask him about the recent pushback against stakeholder capitalism, he doesn’t flinch:

“I think it all boils down to time frame. Yes, we are here to provide a return for shareholders. The best way to provide a return for shareholders over time is if you have strong communities, associates that are well compensated and happy with their jobs and excited about their futures. A planet that works.”

A few other excerpts. On how long inflation will last:

It’s going to last a while.”

On how long it will take the global supply chain to get sorted out:

“I’m not even going to venture a guess. But it’s definitely going to be longer than this year.”

On rising wages:

“Wages have gone up, and we’re pleased about that. Actually, we like to raise wages.”

On Walmart’s move into new businesses like advertising and health care:

“One of the interesting things that I’ve learned over the last few years is when you make the switch from being purely analog to being more of a digital company, it unlocks opportunities to grow a lot of other businesses…When I was going to business school, we were taught about silos and conglomerates. In a digital world, it all feels a lot more connected. It doesn’t feel like they’re silos. It just feels like you are designing for a family or a customer or for members. And these other things kind of naturally come together and result in one experience for them. And that’s what we are trying to build.”

You can listen to the full interview on Apple or Spotify. Other news below.

Alan Murray
@alansmurray

alan.murray@fortune.com

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This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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