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The Age of Wal-Mart: Inside America's Most Powerful Company

An inside look into the successes of the retail giant, Wal-Mart.


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In this Peabody Award-winning program, CNBC’s David Faber scrutinizes Wal-Mart as he seeks to understand how the company has ascended to the heights of power it has come to occupy—and whether this juggernaut can continue to succeed in the face of increased opposition.

Given unprecedented access, Faber takes viewers from an annual managers’ meeting that resembles an evangelical revival to the opening of a new store in China, where Wal-Mart is one of the country’s leading importers. Faber also sits down for a one-on-one with CEO Lee Scott, who addresses criticisms over outsourcing, community friction, lawsuits, and other issues.

Video Segments

1. Wal-Mart: Capitalism at its Finest? Wal-Mart store managers attend two rallies a year with corporate officers. The largest private employer in the U.S., Wal-Mart's annual sales in 2004 were $300 billion.
2. Wal-Mart Culture: Thrifty and Demanding Wal-Mart corporate headquarters is an unimpressive structure with cramped offices and cheap furniture. Wal-Mart shareholders meetings, like all meetings, get started early. Upper level management sees virtue in arriving early and staying late.
3. Wal-Mart: Small-Town Advantage In its rural Arkansas location, Wal-Mart had to create everything for itself. It was on the cutting edge of technology and created distributions systems that continue to serve them today. The shareholders meeting looks like a pep rally.
4. Influence of Sam Walton on Wal-Mart Economics Lee Scott and Wal-Mart's CFO earned $14 million combined stock and cash in 2004, but on business trips they must share a cheap motel room to cut costs. Sam Walton's cost-cutting methods and efficiency continue today at Wal-Mart on all levels.
5. History of Wal-Mart's Philosophy Sam Walton opened his first Wal-Mart store in 1962. His revolutionary idea was to slash prices to increase sales. He focused first on small American towns. He relies on hourly employees to tell him the best way to run business.
6. Wal-Mart: Abuser or Abused? Today, Wal-Mart is routinely accused of mistreating its workers, but in Walton's day, his employees were the envy of the industry. Many became rich, helping Wal-Mart to remain union-free. Walton's obsession with improvement led to his success.
7. Wal-Mart: China's Largest Importer China figures prominently in Wal-Mart's relentless goal of cutting costs. Wal-Mart is China's largest importer. Wal-Mart puts pressure on suppliers to cut the cost of doing business. That pressure, in turn, is transferred to Chinese workers.
8. Wal-Mart's Cultural Influence As America's largest retailer, Wal-Mart can influence culture. It bans reading material it deems inappropriate, yet it sells unedited R-rated films. Corporate executives fly into Bentonville to pitch their products to Wal-Mart.
9. Wal-Mart's Effects on Local Economies Wal-Mart pressures its suppliers to cut costs, and most will do so for the opportunity to do business with Wal-Mart. A former supplier discusses Wal-Mart's business tactics that eventually drove his company out of business.
10. Wal-Mart Negotiates with Suppliers Suppliers at Wal-Mart's Bentonville headquarters report on the "boom-town" atmosphere in the where thousands of people pitch their products to Wal-Mart executives.
11. Wal-Mart Executives Scrutinize Stores Wal-Mart executives spend a great deal of time in individual stores. This close scrutiny reveals what is going right and what may need improvement.
12. Wal-Mart Information Technology A Wal-Mart V.P talks to store employee to talk about sales and successes. Rapid communication with the head office translates into better sales figures. The information system tracks every sale in every store, providing corporate with needed information.
13. Wal-Mart Manages Logistics In Wal-Mart's warehouses and distribution centers, some of which covers over 1 million square feet, managers know the whereabouts of each item and manage movement on 20 miles of conveyor belts.
14. From Wal-Mart Headquarters to International Markets Wal-Mart opens its 39th store in China with pomp and ceremony. Government officials meet with corporate executives. Chinese customers line up to buy things at low prices. Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in both Canada and Mexico.
15. Wal-Mart's Expansion in China Wal-Mart executives in China seek out local foods to sell in the stores' grocery sections. Personal needs are immediately translated into new products that fit the Chinese market.
16. Food Sales in China's Wal-Marts Food drives Wal-Mart business in China. Company executives are already training Chinese for future management positions. Wal-Mart Asia CEO talks with employees the night before a grand opening.
17. Neighborhoods Fight Wal-Mart As Wal-Mart grows, so do its problems, particularly in American communities who see Wal-Mart as a threat to local businesses and local economies. Wal-Mart is accused of fraudulently representing itself in a Chicago community.
18. Communities vs. Wal-Mart Expansion Members of a rural community meet to plot ways to thwart Wal-Mart expansion in their area. So far, the efforts have kept Wal-Mart out of a particular site in Pennsylvania for over 7 years. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott downplays the community's objections.
19. Wal-Mart: Business Colossus Wal-Mart uses public relations experts to pave the way for community acceptance of new stores. How big can Wal-Mart become? CEO Scott Lee believes they need to capture a higher percentage of market share, thus justifying continued expansion.
20. Sex-Discrimination Lawsuit Against Wal-Mart Wal-Mart defends itself against at least 5000 lawsuits at a given time. In the largest lawsuit against a private company in U.S. history, female employees sue Wal-Mart for gender discrimination.
21. Organized Labor vs. Wal-Mart Wal-Mart cuts wages and health benefits, locks in workers at night, and uses undocumented aliens for cleaning services. Organized labor takes aim at Wal-Mart, a company it has so far been unable to penetrate.
22. Reforms Within Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott asserts that Wal-Mart is doing right by its associates/workers. Wal-Mart promotes from within, but many inexperienced managers feel "tremendous" pressure to perform above their capabilities.
23. Is Wal-Mart's Power Good for America? Wal-Mart CEO denies that his company has any global impact, that it influences city zoning laws, or determines "real" minimum wage standards. Wal-Mart, however, is a great influence on many of the key issues facing the U.S.


Grade: 6-8, 9-12

The Age of Wal-Mart: Inside America's Most Powerful Company (DVD)
© 2004
Time: 82 Minutes

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