Select one of the keywords
The Bully of Bentonville    by Anthony Bianco order for
Bully of Bentonville
by Anthony Bianco
Order:  USA  Can
Doubleday, 2006 (2006)

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

In The Bully of Bentonville, Anthony Bianco looks at the Wal-Mart dynasty - its growth, economic impact, Wall Street ups and downs, ill treatment of employees, strong anti-union stance, and bullying tactics for entry into new locations. The corporation espouses 'Everyday Low Prices' for the audience first targeted, i.e. low-income, stretch-the-dollar households. Its founder targeted 'budget-conscious shoppers'. In recent years, the organization is attempting to attract 'sophisticated audience dollars' by adding designer lines and technological equipment.

Handsome, well-mannered Samuel Moore Walton was born in 1918 in Oklahoma. He excelled in sports, and was the youngest in Missouri to achieve Eagle Scout honors at age thirteen. The family hearts and roots were in Missouri: 'Ozarkers born in temporary exile, it being a peculiarity of Ozark culture that 'the children of native parents are native, no matter where they are born'.' College frats dubbed him Hustler Walton, employees addressed him as Mr. Sam, and he was called the 'Rockefeller of the Ozarks'. He founded the first Wal-Mart in the town of Bentonville in 1962. Employees were taught the Sam's Pledge, to be recited as a group each morning before the doors opened (still practiced to this day): 'From this day forward, I solemnly promise and declare that every customer that comes within ten feet of me, I will smile, look them in the eye, and greet them. So help me Sam!' (Cheerfully and with gusto!)

Wal-Mart has had its problems since Walton's death. Unlike the founder who piloted his own Cessna jet to inspect his kingdom, his heirs are not involved with the stores. 'Keeper of the Culture', executive Don Soderquist, recalls, 'The greatest fear we had after Sam died was not whether we could open new stores, but would we be able to preserve the culture that he'd created'. Like those before him, CEO H. Lee Scott, Jr. has faced the thunder of union wrath, and an annual turnover of three-quarters of employees. Now, a sophisticated, high-tech spy and control-network monitors cashier sales, controls staffing in busy and non-busy hours (an employee hired to work eight-hours can be sent home any time with loss of pay), and supplies projections for inventory needs. Women train male employees. In turn, men are promoted to higher positions, passing over eligible women. Though store managers make six-figure salaries, they are expected to work two-eight hour shifts, six-days a week, plus be on emergency call 24 hours a day.

The media has covered the Wal-Mart battles with federal regulations regarding minimum wage and minimum benefits, stalling tactics that dragged out in court, lawsuits brought for labor law violations, scare tactics, and non-hiring of blacks. Spotlighted was (and is) the issue of Wal-Mart's imports of items made in countries by nine-year olds, forced to work long hours for little pay and food, and lock-ins of employees to keep them working. The company did join the bandwagon of Made in America, a.k.a. 'Bring It Home to the USA' efforts. But the spell was broken when a reporter walking through a Wal-Mart store found racks of merchandise labeled 'Made in Bangladesh'. Adding to the Wal-Mart woes was the exposure of the hiring of illegals.

Anthony Bianco - a senior writer at BusinessWeek for twenty years, and co-author of the magazine's acclaimed cover story on Wal-Mart - is thorough and objective in his account of the billion-dollar giant. Where are they today? The author includes a narrative summation, and in a chapter on the 'Education of Lee Scott', infers that the CEO finally sees the light on needed changes. As a layperson, I found The Bully of Bentonville an eye-opening, educational read, and recommend it as such. In his biography, Walton admits: 'I was so obsessed with turning in a profit margin of 6 percent or high that I ignored some of the basic needs of our people, and I feel bad about it.'

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more NonFiction books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews