Doug McMillon, the CEO of Walmart.
Michael Nagle—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Doug McMillon started at the nation’s largest retailer as a teenager, unloading trucks for an hourly wage. He explains how he has positioned Walmart during the pandemic to make sure the $500 billion-plus company thrives in the new landscape that emerges going forward.

What pandemic-induced changes in how you run your company do you expect to persist beyond the pandemic?

When the pandemic hit, there was no question that we needed to put all our attention on the safety of our associates and serving our customers who needed access to food and critical supplies. It became clear there were a lot of meetings that didn’t need to happen and, also, that not everybody needed to be involved in every decision. That kind of rigorous prioritization was kind of a reset for our processes, and I think we’ll keep working in a more streamlined way.

In terms of supply chain and logistics, what changes do you think will be most enduring?

The supply chain came under a lot of strain. We’re still digging into the learnings, but a couple things emerged that we’re going to focus on. One is you’re going to see us raise the expectation we have on fill rates to ensure product ordered is reaching our stores. We’re also going to sharpen our assortment. That will allow us to get higher volumes and more predictable production capacity from our suppliers— the result is more assured flow of product to the customer even when a surge in demand hits. During the pandemic, we saw the benefits of our relationships with local suppliers, so we’ll build on those as another way to help ensure access to product.

In terms of game-changing technology on the nearish-term horizon—two to five years—what do you think will have the most impact on your business?

I don’t think you can pin it down to one piece of technology. Sometimes the magic happens when we put several pieces together. The key is to be clear on which big problems we’re trying to solve and then working backward to overcome all the hurdles to solve them. We’re testing or studying drone delivery, eliminating the checkout line and leveraging new technologies in our supply chain.

Is it the corporate world’s responsibility to retrain workers displaced by technology?

Yes, we should be part of that solution. Technology is fundamentally changing what it means to work—and the retail industry is no exception. Knowing this, for several years now, we’ve invested heavily in our associates as the skills needed to perform the jobs of the future continue to change. For us, this has resulted in higher wages, innovation in our on-the-job training and more education opportunities for our frontline associates.

Is there a correlation between the growing interest from corporations in stakeholder capitalism and the decline in the ability of governments to solve big problems?

Big problems don’t rest on the shoulders of government or corporations alone. I think the growing interest in stakeholder capitalism stems from companies genuinely invested in doing good for our world, because it’s the right thing to do and because businesses who take this approach are stronger. We simply won’t be here if we don’t take care of the very things that allow us to exist: our associates, customers, suppliers and the planet. That’s not up for debate.

What is your reaction to people coming into your stores, not wearing masks and confronting your associates?

We understand some people can’t wear masks for health reasons. Where I get concerned is that it’s become a political issue. Our teams continue to handle these situations with great care and reinforce the importance of wearing a mask. Millions of customers pass through our stores each week, and we don’t think it’s too much to ask people to wear a mask when it comes to protecting one another.

Do you wear a mask?

Yes. And I appreciate our associates doing it and doing it for so long. We believe it has contributed to their safety and the safety of our customers.

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