Modern leadership and business culture lessons from Walmart’s John Furner

Retail Gets Real Episode 300: The NRF Chairman discusses his remarkable career journey and the way it’s shaped his approach

Walmart U.S. President and CEO and NRF Board Chairman John Furner caught the “retail bug” while he was still in college and working a summer job as an hourly associate at Store 100 in Bentonville, Ark., in 1993.

The Huddle with John Furner

Check out John Furner’s podcast, The Huddle with John Furner, for more leadership insights.

“Two things happened over that next year that probably shaped my desire to stay here in the industry and at the company as long as I have,” Furner says on this week’s special 300th episode of Retail Gets Real, recorded on-site at NRF 2023: Retail’s Big Show in New York City. “What I saw happening in that environment, in that store, was a place where you are better because of the people around you, and you have the opportunity to make those around you better.”

The second opportunity was a four-month internship in Monterey, Mexico. “I realized what kind of experience that was in terms of going and working as the person who didn't speak the language,” he said. “It was just a really enriching experience for me.”

As he worked his way up the corporate ladder — from store manager to his previous role as CEO of Sam’s Club — Furner said he’s learned that true leaders are risk takers.

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“There are a few jobs along the way that people told me, ‘Don't do it. That's a really risky role.’ And when I heard that, I got a lot closer to yes, right away,” he said. “I wanted to do things that sounded hard and made a difference and helped teams. And all those added up have just been a wonderful experience for me, my family, and a lot of opportunities that I think are unique to our industry and specifically to the company.”

For 2023, Furner says Walmart's focus will continue to be on the customer. “What will be going on this year is an intense focus on what customers are doing, what data we know about what they're doing while they're shopping, and how we can better serve them and take the friction out,” he said. “We'll continue to push new ideas and innovations and we'll find new ways that customers want to be served.”

Listen to the full podcast to hear more of Furner’s career journey, the best career advice he’s received and how the concept of a daily huddle helps him guide the business.

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