Sep 5, 2013

Sam Walton's Made in America: 10 Valuable Lessons

I neither knew much about Sam Walton nor had much interest before reading this book. After reading this book, however, I have developed an interest  and admiration for Walton's life and enterprise. 

At the end of World War II in 1945, 26-years-old Sam Walton borrowed a loan of $20,000 to buy a Ben Franklin Variety Store, which he operated successfully, too successfully perhaps. Seeing his tremendous success, the house-owner refused to renew his lease and appropriated the place for his son after the original lease period expired. Hence, Walton was forced to give up his business after he made it successful.

However, for an entrepreneur, such challenges are minor and in many cases, encourage him/her to do even better. He opened another variety store in a new place and soon grew his business into a chain of stores. While running the chain of variety stores, he established the first Wal-Mart in 1962 as a discount store. And as we all know, the rest is history. Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in the world and a multi-billion dollar company today.

The power of a free market system and competition in the society to bring economic growth and innovation is reflected abundantly in Wal-Mart's journey from a small discount store in 1960s to world's largest retailer today. As Walton reflects in the book, value creation for customers and constant innovation (be it through self innovation or by copying someone else) have been the hallmark of Wal-Mart Stores.To be sure, not every action of Wal-Mart is pro-market and it has abused power at times to outpace its competitors but its rise has been mainly because of innovation and value creation. Walton's passion for his work is truly admirable and contagious. Walton's impressive story aside, the book itself is less than impressive though. I found it poorly written. Readers are forced to contemplate once in a while what a great story it would have been if the book had been written by a better writer. Still, it is a highly recommended read from my side.

Towards the end of the book, Sam Walton has shared some lessons he learned during his journey of creating Wal-Mart empire which are valuable for aspiring entrepreneurs. They are as below:

1. COMMIT to your business. Believe in it more than anybody else. Eat, breathe, sleep your business.

2. SHARE your profits with all your associates (employees and stakeholders), and treat them as partners. If they are your employees, they will make your business profitable. If they are your partners, they will strive to make your business great.

3. MOTIVATE your partners. Money and ownership alone aren't enough. Respect and appreciation are equally important.

4. COMMUNICATE everything you possibly can to your partners. The more they know, the more they'll understand. Practice utmost transparency with your partners.

5. APPRECIATE everything your associates do for the business. A paycheck and a stock option will buy one kind of loyalty. But all of us like to be told how much somebody appreciates what we do for them.

6. CELEBRATE your successes. Find some humor in your failures. Don't take yourself so seriously. Have fun. 

7. LISTEN to everyone in your company. And figure out ways to get them talking.

8. EXCEED your customers' expectations. If you do, they'll come back over and over.

9. CONTROL your expenses better than your competition. This is where you can always find the competitive advantage.

10. SWIM upstream. Go the other way. Ignore the conventional wisdom. Use the Blue Ocean Strategy.

What do you think of these lessons? Share if you have any.