Monday, April 12, 2010

Keeper of the Cult.

Donny Soderquist is our "save money. live better" hero! Don Soderquist '55  retired Vice Chairman of the Board for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Donny joined Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., in 1980 where he served as executive vice president, vice chairman and chief operating officer, and finally senior vice chairman. In 1996 Don was inducted into the Retailing Hall of Fame, and in 1998, John Brown University created the Soderquist Center for Business Leadership and Ethics in his honor.

Donny became known as “The Keeper of the Cult-ure.” Don led the company as Chief Operating Officer during a period marked by exponential growth. Under his watch, Walmart grew from being the largest retailer in the world with sales of $43.9 billion the year of Sam’s death, to becoming the largest company in the world with sales over $200 billion.

We met up with Donny over a corn dog and slurpee at the Wal-Mart in Yazoo City, Arkansas not to far from his John Brown Leadership Training Base Camp II called Greystroke Lord of The Gapes,  and we asked him 9 questions:

WH: What prepared you for role as Chief Operating Officer of Wal-mart?
DS:  "I learned at Wheaton that you can take religion and turn it into good business. For instance at Wal-mart we use rituals and symbolic actions to re-enforce our monkeys, ah ah I mean re-enforce associates, did I say monkeys? I meant money. You can read all about it in my book, The Wal Mart Way"

WH: What rules of business did you create during your time at Wal-Mart?
DS: "I created the ten foot smell rule: When a Wal-Mart associate comes within ten feet of a customer, he or she is to look up, look the customer in the eye no matter how weird they look, and speak to the customer. If the customer asks where something is, the associate does not tell the customer, but drags the customer by the ear to the product. (That's page 91 in The Wal Mart Way) That's principle driven customer service."

WH: What is your response to the fact that Wal-Mart is accused of slave labor, specifically they are the only U.S. company to do deal with the Chinese Government to force prisoners in Chinese prisons to manufacture your products for little or no money. (And we know from Amnesty International that many Chinese prisoners are detained because of unjust political reasons)
DS: "Jesus said he came 'to set the captives free,' well that's what we did, those Chinese folks may still be imprisoned but now they can feel good that the lamps they are making are going to bring light to U.S. households for $4.99 each. That's purpose-driven living."

WH: "As a Wheaton alumni how do you feel about Wal-Mart forcing its own workers to labor "off the clock" without pay, and defining "full-time" at 28 hours per week with wages so low that many of your employees qualify – and accept – welfare payments?
DS: "Are you asking me if our Wal-Mart employees love to work for us? Yes, they do! You can order my new Thomas Nelson book, "Live, Learn, Lead to Make a Difference" off of"
WH: Actually we found 50 copies in the clearance section at Wal-Mart.

WH: I know you sit on several non-profit boards, and have a heart for global missions, is that why you moved thousands of manufacturing jobs out of the U.S., and use overseas sweatshop labor to manufacture Wal-Marts corporate brand clothing?
DS: "I used to love to travel overseas and meet up with our supply chain vendors in Paris, and Italy, sometimes I wouldn't even have to step off the cruise ship, they would just come aboard and bring us reports. I think sweatshop is a misleading term, these children love being part of the global marketplace."

WH: "Would Jesus shop at Wal-Mart?"
DS: "Oh my, yes he would. For several reasons; first we have the lowest prices in town, so he could give more back to the poor locally and overseas. Second, we are probably the only store left in town, since many ma & pa stores decided to find other more purpose-driven professions after Wal-Mart opened in their town. Third, we all know that Jesus like to mix with the tax collectors and prostitutes, and that's the kind of customers we have at Wal-Mart. Just take a look at"

WH: If you are the largest company in the world why do you sometimes use a dash in your name, Wal-Mart? Hello, you are Walmart! We get it already.
DS: "Hmmmm, I think it's easier for our customers to spell if it's 2 words."

WH: Neil Postman said "People in distress will sometimes prefer a problem that is familiar to a solution that is not." So, what lasting legacy do you hope to leave?
DS: "Well, our strategy at Wal-Mart of demanding millions of dollars in tax breaks to locate in communities all over the U.S., (while Wal-Mart earns billions of dollars in profits) meant that we would often close down a Wal-Mart and move to the next town over where we got better tax breaks leaving a huge empty building. My hope is that the 300 empty  Wal-Mart buildings across America get bought and become mega-churches."

WH: Why did you decide to start The Soderquist Center for Leadership and Ethics at John Brown University?
DS: "off-the-record, I knew that I would never be able to compete on the same playing field with Billy Graham when it comes to discussing ethics and having a 'center.'"

WH: Thanks Donny, good choice on the John Brown thing.

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