That is, until four shareholder proposals were read later in the program, held at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville’s Bud Walton Arena.
Wal-Mart pulled out all the stops for what is usually a high-octane, entertainment-filled spectacle with moments devoted to business, seamlessly spliced together. Hugh Jackman hosted the event with a combination of song and dance and self-deprecating humor. Prince Royce warbled the classic “Stand by Me,” and Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson also entertained.
Wal-Mart is tight-lipped about the talent it hires for “annual,” as the event is simply called. More than halfway through, a special guest was introduced: Tom Cruise. “I’ve wanted to come here for quite some time, actually,” the actor said, “because the culture you have here is like no other. I truly admire your company. [It’s] a role model for how business can address some of the biggest issues facing our world.”
Cruise spoke about Wal-Mart’s sustainability efforts and initiatives for women, including its goal to source more than $20 billion worth of goods from female-owned companies over five years. “Wal-Mart is increasing training, market access and career opportunities for one million women around the world,” Cruise said. Critics have accused the retailer of failing to support women in its workforce, with a series of sex discrimination lawsuits working their way through the courts seeking class status after the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case, Wal-Mart v. Dukes, that would have been a nationwide class-action lawsuit. The Supreme Court ruled it did not have nationwide class status.
In the discussion of its business operations, Neil Ashe, president and chief executive officer of global e-commerce, said walmart.com reinvented its search engine, resulting in customers “finding what they want and buying more often.” The pick-and-click program in the U.K., similar to Shop Online, Pick Up in Store in the U.S., is growing. In Shanghai, Wal-Mart is using scooters for home delivery and to circumvent the traffic. “We are taking share in e-commerce around the world,” Ashe said. “In Brazil, we went from number eight to number one in just five months. In China, we made a major investment in Yihaodian, and ASDA is the second-biggest online grocer in the U.K.”
It wasn’t all celebration, however. Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladeshi Center for Worker Solidarity, proposed giving shareholders the right to convene emergency board meetings. Referring to the tragedies in Bangladeshi factories, she said, “Wal-Mart’s supply chain is out of control.” Addressing Rob Walton, chairman, Akter said, “Fixing factory buildings would cost just a tiny fraction of your family’s wealth. You have the power to do this very easily. Don’t you agree the factories where Wal-Mart products are made should be safe for the workers? Forty-two companies have already signed an accord that represents a real commitment to worker safety. Wal-Mart is only one of a few retailers that refused to sign. Wal-Mart p.r. said [it has] an alternative agreement, but not a single meaningful detail has been provided. Every time there is an accident, Wal-Mart officials make a promise to improve the terrible conditions in my country’s factories. Apparel workers are dying by the hundreds. Could there be any more clear reason for an emergency meeting?”
Other shareholder proposals included adopting a policy requiring senior executives to hold onto a large portion of their shares until they reach retirement age, appointing an independent chair to the board and requesting an annual report of recoupment of executive pay.
Rob Walton delivered the unofficial preliminary results of the propositions. He said the company-sponsored proposals, including the election of 14 directors, passed, while those introduced by shareholders failed.
The overall mood of the meeting was decidedly upbeat. Charles Holley, chief financial offer, crowed about the company’s stock, which closed on Thursday at $75.63 on the New York Stock Exchange, a 17 percent increase over the stock’s price at last year’s annual meeting. The $466 billion retailer grew sales by $92 billion over the last five years and is closing in on half a trillion dollars. “I love saying that,” he said. Profits last year were $28 billion and grew faster than sales. Earnings per share of $5.02 is up 10 percent over the last five years.
“Wal-Mart U.S. grew by $10 billion last year to $274 billion,” he said. “Sam’s Club had $56 billion in sales last year. Wal-Mart international, with $135 billion in sales, is big enough to be the second-largest retailer in the world and represents almost 30 percent of total company sales.”
Wal-Mart last year added 35 million square feet of retail space worldwide. About 19 million of it was devoted to the international business.
The board retired a 2011 $15 billion share repurchase plan and authorized a new $15 billion program.
Mike Duke, president and ceo of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., noted that the company’s free cash is up 18.1 percent. “Our long-term business strategies are working,” he said.
Duke alluded to the alleged bribery scandal, saying, “Our company was founded on integrity, and over the past years we’ve strengthen our compliance programs. Compliance is absolute.”
EXCLUSIVE: Two and half months after John Targon, cofounder and codesigner of Baja East, was hired as creative director of the contemporary division at Marc Jacobs, he has left the company, WWD has learned. Marc Jacobs International, which is owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, confirmed Targon’s departure in a statement: “John Targon is a talented designer and we appreciate the work he has done here. Ultimately working together did not make sense for the brand and we wish him the best.” Read the story by @jessiredale, link in bio. #wwdnews
@theluxurycollection is officially launching a collection, tapping Sofia Sanchez de Betak for the capsule. Over 30 styles will be featured in the Chufy x The Luxury Collection, debuting next month at Bergdorf Goodman, The Webster, FiveStory and more. De Betak, known as “@chufy,” drew inspiration for the collection from her trips to Japan in the past year #wwdfashion
@lhd, founder and CEO of @thewebster, has teamed up with @lebonmarcherivegauche for the European launch of her ready-to-wear line, LHD. The launch will come with an exclusive pop-up opening today that’s set to run through May 20. Located on the second floor, it carries her debut Miami-themed resort collection, launched in November as see-now-buy-now. #wwdfashion
@longchamp, which marks its 70th anniversary this year, just opened its biggest U.S. store on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. On the lower level there’s a floor-to-ceiling display of the brand’s iconic Le Pliage bag – in all of its different colors, shapes and sizes. Customers can also have their product personalized in-store by imprinting names, initials or emblems. #wwdfashion (📷: @ericmtownsend)
“Whenever I’m in that place of sound and music, I don’t have fear or nervousness…This album has a lot of themes of courage and boldness and I want to be the soundtrack for people’s lives. I’ll be so happy if [my songs] evoke strength in people, which I know music has done for me,” says @kimbramusic of her newest album “Primal Heart.” The New Zealand-born singer sat down with WWD to talk about her music, newest tour and connecting with hear fans — read more on WWD.com #wwdeye (📷: @jilliansollazzo)
Luxury handbag resale company @rebagofficial is planning to sell a rare collectible for $70,000: the @hermes White Crocodile Himalayan Birkin. The exclusive Birkin sold for about $100,000 in 2008, when @davidbeckham bought one for his wife @victoriabeckham to add to her collection. Read more about the rare Birkin on WWD.com #wwdaccessories
With her costume pearl necklace and what-you-see-is-what-you-get style, Barbara Bush, who died Tuesday at age 92, was a straight-shooter from start to finish.
Born Barbara Pierce in New York City, Bush served as the 37th first lady, as well as the country’s second lady from 1981 to 1989. In addition to being part of the longest presidential marriage — 73 years — Bush also had the unlikely distinction of having one son, George W., become the 43rd president and another son, Jeb, run unsuccessfully in 2016. Having served as second lady during the Reagan administration’s two terms and lived all over the world during her own husband’s ascending political career, Barbara Bush made it clear that literacy — not fashion — was her priority. Read more from Rosemary Feitelberg’s obituary on the late First Lady in WWD.com, link in bio. #barbarabush #wwdnews
Western and ’90s trends have influenced denim for fall 2018. Think raw, dark and coated jeans mixed with bold prints and tough leather. #trendtuesdays #wwdfashion (Styled by @thealexbadia;📷: @ryanplett)