It was another excellent Walmart shareholder meeting this year. The musical acts were not exactly to my taste, but it’s just impressive to see Celine Dion, Lionel Ritchie, Taylor Swift, Zac Brown, and Juanes perform. And Justin Timberlake did an excellent job as MC.
There wasn’t really much exciting news to report during the meeting. It was another year of steady growth in profits. It was another year of Walmart emphasizing how they provide people with opportunities and keep the cost of goods low so that people — especially poor people — can live better. But I’ve already written about this in the past (see for example this).
As I’ve said before, if Walmart were a government program designed to help poor people by providing them with low cost, basic goods and job opportunities, academics would be holding conferences to identify just how it was so successful, the New York Times would write editorials to laud its accomplishments (like they do for the ineffective Head Start program), and politicians would be tripping over each other to take credit for it. But because they help provide people, especially poor people, really low cost basic goods and make a profit at it, they are demonized. Little do these haters realize that Walmart’s success at innovating to keep costs down is entirely made possible by the profit motive. These folks fail to understand the lesson of Al Copeland — entrepreneurs are often among the greatest humanitarians.
There was some excitement at this year’s shareholder meeting surrounding the Mexican bribery allegations. But the only people I heard mention it were the Walmart officials, who several times directly addressed the topic by pledging to conduct a full investigation and emphasizing Walmart’s commitment to do what is right and uphold integrity, and the reporters covering those comments. None of the associates or shareholders seemed to care much. And I saw no protesters of any sort.
A reporter for the Huffington Post, Alice Hines, tried to manufacture some news by claiming to detect signs of rebellion among Walmart associates. She even alleged that she was manhandled by a cop at a Walmart event the other night because she was mistaken for a protester. Ms. Hines may have an active imagination because I did not see the same things she alleged. She tweeted “Walmart secretary booed by a few in the audience after shareholder proposal on exec incentive report.” I didn’t hear any booing. She tweeted “Lots of applause from UK & Canada section for shareholder proposal on political transparency; scattered claps elsewhere.” I didn’t hear that either. She was accurate in tweeting “Presenting exec incentive proposal, Jackie Goebel says Walmart stores are understaffed. gets big applause.” And her claim to have been mistaken for a protester and threatened with arrest by a police officer at an earlier Walmart event sounds fishy given that there were virtually no protesters for whom she could have been mistaken.
The anti-Walmart folks may love retweeting these reports suggesting discord and strife at the Walmart shareholder meeting, but the image her “reporting” conveys is completely misleading. The Walmart shareholder meeting is basically a giant cheer-leading event that went perfectly smoothly this year just as it has in the past. You can criticize the meeting for feeling like a Disney show, as some did, but you can’t suggest that it was Chicago in the summer of ’68. It was just another well-choreographed event and the associates, many of whom were visiting the US for the first time or had just flown on an airplane for the first time in their life, just seemed thrilled to be there.