By  on June 8, 2009

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Few, if any companies, could put on such a big and bold extravaganza, especially in these times. The Wal-Mart annual shareholders’ meeting at the University of Arkansas’ Bud Walton Arena on Friday was equal parts self-congratulation, motivation and entertainment.

“Annual,” as the initiated call it, is a tradition. What’s more, Wal-Mart has much to crow about: global sales in fiscal 2009 of $401 billion and, on Thursday, the retailer said it will create 22,000 jobs, mainly in its U.S. stores.

“We have a story to tell, and we think it’s a good one,” said a Wal-Mart spokesman, adding that, “Annual gives the company the opportunity to tell it.

Ben Stiller, who was the meeting’s master of ceremonies, poked fun at the deeply ingrained Wal-Mart culture.

“Man, you guys like to get up early,” he said, referring to the event’s 7 a.m. start time. “I hear they’re still sleeping over at Target.”

Mike Duke, president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., presided over his first annual meeting; Duke succeeded Lee Scott, who retired in February. “Last fiscal year, earnings were up 6 percent to $3.35 per share,” he said. “We returned $7.3 billion to our shareholders. We closed the year with about $11.6 billion in free cash flow.”

Vice chairman Eduardo Castro-Wright noted that every month for five consecutive quarters, the company has reported better comparative growth than the market (although Wal-Mart recently decided to no longer report monthly comp-store sales, May being the first month it did not do so). “I believe we’ve achieved the best inventory flows, and our profits grew faster than sales last year,” he said.

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