Store associate to CEO: John Furner leads Sam’s Club through transformation

For more from NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show on January 14 – 16 in New York City, visit the official recap.

For more from NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show on January 14 – 16 in New York City, visit the official recap.

From working in an hourly associate position at Walmart to running one of the top retail businesses in America, Sam’s Club CEO John Furner has come a long way in the retail industry. Furner appeared before 800 students to share his story in a keynote at NRF Foundation’s Student Program at NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show.

Furner started on the sales floor at Walmart in 1993, continued to work his way up and transitioned to Sam’s Club as an assistant buyer in 2004. Within a year, he was promoted to director of merchandising. Furner said that over time, he developed a formula for success — a three-step system that still helps him today: Become great at what you’re good at (instead of trying to be good at what you’re bad at); be resourceful; and say “yes” to new opportunities.

Furner feels like he has been lucky, in terms of having opportunities presented to him, but noted that in many cases he created his own luck by identifying and being open to these opportunities, such as when he said “yes” to moving his family to China for three years while he helped Walmart China become a market leader. He was named president and CEO of Sam’s Club in 2017.

On being a good leader and steering a company in the right direction, Furner’s advice is to “make sure you have the right people in the key positions.” He believes that the most important part of leadership is instinctively knowing which people are the best at what jobs, and how to delegate tasks to them.

Furner also spoke to students about how Sam’s Club is rapidly evolving to accommodate changing consumer behavior with a heavy focus on ecommerce, emphasizing that retailers must “listen carefully to what [customers] are saying.” As part of the transformation, Walmart announced multiple store closures for Sam’s Club this week, which he described as a difficult but necessary step for the company. Some of the clubs will be converted into ecommerce fulfillment facilities, and Furner said he is excited for what the future will hold. 

For more stories from NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show, visit the official recap page.