By W.T. “Bill” McKibben, Senior Counsel, The Great Lakes Group
Those of us who have spent time in communications, be it journalism or public relations, are familiar with what we call a “grandstand move.” That’s when a company with a bad image will roll out some event or policy designed to make them look good. With luck, they garner a ton of positive media attention. So it is with Walmart. Their latest is a pledge of a job for every returning veteran during their first year out of the service. It got Walmart more positive media than they’ve seen in years. Even we were impressed, until we got to thinking about it.
The majority of jobs at Walmart are low-wage, part-time with zilch benefits. When you’ve served in the workplace culture prevalent in our military, who wants that kind of job? Bill Simon, who runs the Walmart stores in the United States, joined the company less than ten years ago. He was paid about $8.5 million last year. Our guess is that not many of the hundred thousand vets Simon estimates Walmart will hire over the next five years will take home even the average U.S. paycheck, let alone much above that figure. A hundred thousand hires over five years is just 20,000 a year, roughly four or five a year per Walmart store. So if you do the math Walmart’s offer to our veterans doesn’t add up to all that much.
Ironically, Bill Simon’s big announcement came just a few days before Fortune magazine rolled out their 2013 listing of the 100 best places in America to work. It’s no surprise that Walmart didn’t make the list. It was dominated at the top by Google and other enterprises that employ mostly high-skill, high-wage people. Except for the one in fifth place, Wegmans, a family owned supermarket chain.
Wegmans is one of only thirteen companies that have been on the Fortune list since its debut. They have more employees than any other company in the top forty on the list, and while they pay well, the majority of their people are not in the upper brackets. The Fortune research model includes a scientific sample drawn from all full-and-part time employees. In Wegmans’ case, that includes the young people who round up shopping carts from the icy and snow-covered parking lots in the northeast where their stores are located.
The message is clear, it’s the culture. Walmart can roll out all the PR events and policies they can come up with, it won’t change their culture. Their people on the front line do not create the culture – that comes from the top. Wegmans is in the hands of the fourth and fifth generations of the Wegman family who carefully guard their culture. Walmart is controlled by the Walton family. Their wealth is close to a hundred billion dollars; sadly that’s about all they have to show for it.