Recently I finished reading Sam Walton: Made in America, the autobiography of the founder of Wal-Mart. Two years ago I had read about the book on another blog as a great one for entrepreneurs to read — I wasn’t disappointed. Entrepreneur autobiographies is one of my favorite categories of book and this one is awesome, especially if you like entertaining anecdotes, leadership lessons, and inspiring ideas.
Here are some notes from the book:
- Sam started out in retail because that was the best job offer he had out of college
- Bentonville, Arkansas was chosen because it was close to his in-laws and near four states for hunting seasons
- Wal-Mart wasn’t started until Sam was in his 40s as it was an itch he had to scratch (a market opportunity he felt compelled to go after)
- Having a plane and a pilot’s license was a competitive advantage for Sam so that he could fly around and visit stores as well as scout sites in the rural towns
- Kmart was the 800-pound gorilla in the industry and many people thought Wal-Mart would stay regional and not be able to compete in Kmart’s markets
- Wal-Mart’s heavy investments in technology and communications systems (e.g. satellites were necessary to share data since the internet wasn’t available) were considered unusual at the time but proved to be a critical part of their long-term success
- Wal-Mart owned its distribution centers and tractor trailers, which was different than Kmart and Target, thereby providing greater levels of communication and responsiveness (a store could order something and have it delivered in 48 hours)
- Culture was a main focus for Sam and he constantly looked for people that had talent and abilities in advance of their experience (people who could punch above their weight class)
- Sam did an in-person weekly huddle on Saturday mornings with hundreds of store managers and the executive team religiously for decades, analyzing everything and sharing stories of what did, and didn’t, work much more frequently than most other companies — he cited this as one of the reasons they were able to grow so fast and dominate
Whether you like Wal-Mart of not, it’s impressive to read the stories of the early days and learn how it was built. Sam Walton is an entrepreneur in the truest sense.