New dress codes for associates leave room for individual expressions of style.

Walmart Inc.’s 48th shareholders meeting on Wednesday was all work and no play. 

The retail behemoth changed the format of the event — known as shareholders — by hosting a formal business meeting mainly focused on shareholder voting on proxy proposals. It appears Walmart decided not to subject investors and analysts to the spectacle that is shareholders — 6,000 rowdy store associates from the Walmart’s different businesses, competing to see who can cheer the loudest, while hosts deliver jokes and entertainers perform. The fact that shareholders starts at the crack of dawn doesn’t help matters. 

Talk about brevity, the entire business meeting lasted about 35 minutes, with about 21 minutes given over to electing and re-electing board members, ratifying company-sponsored proposals and defeating those introduced by shareholders.

Before voting got underway, Walmart president and chief executive officer Doug McMillon delivered a concise — three-minute — assessment of the state of the retail giant’s business. There were no surprises. “Exciting year… moving faster… getting stronger… good momentum,” he said. “This is a dynamic time to be in retail and opportunities are emerging to serve customers in new ways, so we’re moving with speed to bring them to life,” he said.

McMillon said key Walmart developments in the past year “are setting the company up for success, whether it’s investing in Flipkart in a growth market like India or our desire to combine the ASDA business with Sainsbury in the U.K.

“We continue to be strategic and thoughtful about our portfolio. At the same time, we manage the business to deliver results today,” McMillon said, which could have been a veiled reference to Walmart’s desire to sell the Brazil business. “We’re making big changes, and they’re the right changes to deliver long-term growth.”

Walmart achieved some impressive benchmarks in 2017, such as posting revenues of more than $500 billion for the first time, Walmart U.S. clocking the highest comp-store sales increases in nine years, Walmart U.S. e-commerce sales advancing 44 percent, Sam’s Club showing improved traffic and positive comps, and 10 of 11 international markets comping positive. McMillon is no doubt aware that shareholders must be wondering whether all these metrics are enough to compete effectively with Amazon.

“We’re creating seamless shopping with a great in-store experience, easy pickup, fast delivery and with apps and a web site that is easy to use,” McMillon said. “We’re changing how we work. We’re becoming a more digital company and our goal is to be faster, more efficient and more effective.

“Changing also means strengthening diversity and inclusion efforts,” McMillon said. “In addition to being the right thing to do, there’s also a strong business case for diversity; it helps us deliver innovation within the company.” The Walmart ceo was walking the walk, but the retailer’s board speaks to the contrary. There are currently three women out of 12 members, including Sarah Friar, who was appointed earlier and standing for election on Wednesday.

In one of the most tangible signs of change at Walmart, the retailer on Wednesday announced its relaxing associate dress guidelines. Hourly employees can now wear any type of denim pants and shirts of any color of pattern. Sneakers are OK, too. Vests and name badges are still required but Walmart is removing restrictions on hairstyles and tattoos.

McMillon ticked off omnichannel initiatives across the company, including Google Voice shopping, 1,100-plus grocery pickup locations, online pickup discount and one-hour grocery delivery in China. “We’re adding 500 more pickup towers,” he said. “We’re expanding online grocery delivery to 40 percent of the U.S. We have an Instacart partnership with Sam’s Club, launched a new walmart.com web site, with a Lord & Taylor flagship, invested in India’s Flipkart, introduced WalmartPay and Uniquely J from Jet.com.

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