Former Wal-Mart exec tells Fort Smith crowd business ethics blurred

story by Linda Kaufenberg

Former Wal-Mart Stores executive Don Soderquist was in Fort Smith on Thursday (Sept. 3) to address the first in a series of luncheons designed to better network graduates of John Brown University who now live and work in the Fort Smith area.

The “360 Series” was spearheaded by Faye Dancer and held at Hardscrabble Country Club with more than 180 in attendance.

Soderquist joined Wal-Mart in 1980 and rose through the ranks to vice chairman and chief operating officer in 1988, and was named senior vice chairman in January  1999. Prior to joining the Bentonville-based retailer, he spent 16 years with Ben Franklin stores, including six years as the president and CEO.

In 1998, Soderquist joined with Siloam Springs-based John Brown University to create the Soderquist Center for Business Leadership and Ethics.

Soderquist told the Fort Smith group that business ethics are not a luxury, but an essential element in creating a high-performance organization.

Known as "the Keeper of the Culture" after Sam Walton died, Soderquist said that to be great, you need to have shared vision, shared values, shared expectations and shared purposes. He noted that Wal-Mart embraced those premises. Soderquist related that Sam Walton's vision was to reduce the cost of living to those who shopped at Wal-Mart and in doing so did more than ever expected. He noted that Walton once said, "I had no idea of the scope of what I would start but I knew if I was good to my associates, we would do well."

Soderquist defined values as "The beliefs people have about what's right and wrong and what is most important in life which control their behavior." Soderquist said values are embedded in a society’s religious beliefs and secular philosophy. He opined that religious beliefs are not having the influence they used to.


"I am concerned about the polarization of the United States. How did we get to where we are, with Enron, Madoff, etc.? When did we start blurring right from wrong?” Soderquist asked. "There is no way we can go up if there is a big grey area we can't agree on. We can only go down."

The luncheons will be held the first Thursday of each month from September to April. The organizing committee for the 36 Series includes Dr. Mike Callaway, Lori Hopkins, Hannah Gentry, Valerie Pense, Jimmy Poole and Kim Snipes.

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