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Happy 100th Sam: Looking at Walmart 100 Years after its Founder’s Birth

Sam Walton’s company has grown into a controversial powerhouse. As the economy shifts to e-retail, what role will his namesake company play?
by Joshua H. Phelps | Mar 29 2018

When we think of companies that are “innovative” or “disruptive,” we tend to picture a scrappy startup in a major metropolitan area. Or maybe it’s a major company trying a new twist in an established market, like Amazon’s grocery store.

But what if Walmart is really one of the most innovative companies out there?


How could that be, though? Walmart is one of, if not the biggest retailers out there. They’re the Goliath everybody else is aiming to take on and disrupt. Well, back when the company was just starting out, Sam Walton — born 100 years ago today on March 29, 1918 — was keen on finding every angle he could to improve his business. And he goes over many of these in his autobiography.

In fact, many of the strategies that today’s entrepreneurs use were ones that Walton himself employed. Studying big players in your vertical? Check. Finding an underserved market? Check. Outpricing your competition? Check. Stealing ideas that work well from other businesses? Check.

This isn’t to say that it’s all been sunshine and roses for Walmart. Indeed, they’ve had their rough patches. The company’s tactics have forced a consideration of the pros and cons of their business model. And the ascendancy of e-commerce with Amazon at the forefront has forced Walmart to re-examine its place in this new economic model and take the Seattle-based colossus head-on.

However you view Walmart, reading up on the founder and the business provides an insightful look at the values and methods of American business. Whether it pivots into the digital age and holds onto its muscle or atrophies along with many other businesses caught in what has been dubbed the retail apocalypse, Walmart will serve as a case study for years to come. 100 years after his birth, and likely for many more years to come, Sam Walton continues to influence us.

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