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This week’s New Yorker magazine (4/2/07) features a long negative story about Wal-Mart’s effort to “co-opt liberals.” This is another in the series of good news/bad news stories that both helps and plagues the company. After nearly a year of this endless seesaw, one wonders when they will get the message that systemic change is the answer. As I have often said about many other companies, without a systemic approach that engages the whole culture, the good work done by the right hand is almost immediately undone by the left hand. Compartmentalized initiatives do not work when it comes to managing risk, reputation and moving towards sustainability.
A few of the article’s highlights:
- According to one source, Wal-Mart has been paying Edelman Communications roughly ten million dollars annually to renovate its reputation. Edelman specalizes in helping industries with image problems; another important client is the American Petroleum Institute
- Ron Galloway, the maker of a recent pro-Wal-Mart documentary, "Why Wal-Mart Works and Why That Makes Some People Crazy," has turned against the company. Galloway told me that he now considers Wal-Mart to be a "heartless" employer.
- The chief spokeswoman for the company, a former A.T.&T. executive named Mona Williams, keeps on a shelf a filmed cover of a 2003 issue of Business Week featuring a story titled "Is Wal-Mart Too Powerful?" The story asked tough questions about Wal-Mart's influence on the American economy. "I keep that there to remind me never to trust reporters," she said, without smiling.
- Lee Scott, Wal-Mart's president and C.E.O., who last year earned $15.7 million in salary and bonuses. Early this month, the company announced that it was granting him an additional twenty-two million dollars in stock. In the past year, Scott earned roughly two thousand times the salary of the average Wal-Mart worker.