Wal-Mart CEO talks technology at chamber event

story by Julie Bagley, special to The City Wire

The Rogers-Lowell area Chamber of Commerce celebrated its 90th annual banquet Friday night at the John Q. Hammons Center, featuring Mike Duke, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

More than 1,200 chamber members packed the banquet room honoring their own and waiting to hear from Duke.

The chamber noted it was a good year for the area despite economic pressure. In the last year, the Rogers-Lowell area Chamber of Commerce has seen more than 25 new restaurants serve food; more than 27 new businesses open its doors and the Rogers downtown occupancy is at 94 percent.

The chamber asked its members to continue its success by soliciting more than $3 million dollars for the next five years in its Impact Possible 2016 project. The funds would go toward economic development, government involvement and attracting new retail and meeting space.

The keynote address with Duke was a casual affair with a Q&A session with cushy wingback chairs and chamber director Ric Clifford of Del Monte Foods asking the questions. The first one many business owners might have in mind, what made Walmart a successful company?

Duke told the crowd Walmart is a great company not because of its great business model but because of its culture.

“You can have a great business model and not succeed. What I think is the greatest foundation and led to its (Walmart) is its culture,” said Duke.

With so many business owners in the room wondering what 2012 will bring, it was no surprise the conversation turned to the struggling economy. Duke said the core Walmart customer is still showing strain.

“Customers are getting through paycheck-to-paycheck, month-to-month,” he said. “We reintroduced layaway. The very first week we were overwhelmed with sales and customers who needed layaway, that’s an indicator of the pressure.”

Duke didn’t give a prediction on when that pressure might let up.

He is looking to the future as Walmart celebrates its 50th year. He recently returned from a trip to the San Francisco area, more specifically, San Bruno, Calif. It’s the new headquarters for walmart.com. Duke alluded to the future of Walmart which lies in the Silicon Valley.

“We’ve made a number of acquisitions and required some phenomenal talent and building a world-class technology team,” he said.

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Duke is referring to @WalmartLabs, formerly Kosmix, which most recently acquired a Portland-based mobile agency called Small Society. Other acquisitions include OneRiot and Grapple.

“I think the investments in technology, understanding social networking, how customers are using mobile, communication, iPhones ... it’s about being an international company and taking the best ideas from the best people, the best parts of the United States and have those parts and services available to customers around the world,” continued Duke, “I think the very best days for Walmart associates and customers are ahead of us.”

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