Remarks as Prepared for Eduardo Castro-Wright, The America’s Competitiveness Forum
Remarks as Prepared for Eduardo Castro-Wright
President and CEO, Wal-Mart Stores, U.S.
The America’s Competitiveness Forum - August 18, 2008
Thank you. On behalf of Wal-Mart, thank you for the invitation to be here today. And let me thank you, Secretary Gutierrez, for bringing us together.
On a personal note, it is truly an honor for me to be here and to join in this conversation. It is important to me because I have spent most of my life in many of the countries you represent. I was born in Ecuador. And I spent much of my career working throughout Latin America.
After many years of living around the world, coming to Wal-Mart has been a deeply gratifying experience. It has been the opportunity to be part of an organization whose aim is not only to grow globally, but to promote growth in countries and communities throughout the world.
At its heart, that is the focus for all of us today — no matter which country we call home. It is about ensuring that every community around the world reaps the benefits of globalization.
Now more than ever, it is vital that we come together to talk about these issues. Here in the U.S. we are seeing the impact that fuel and food inflation is having on American families. But as tough as the situation may seem here in the U.S., it pales in comparison to how many of our neighbors throughout the Americas have been impacted by rising food and fuel prices.
Which makes it all the more important for ALL of us — government, NGO’s and corporations — to sit together at the table and talk. And if you remember only one thing today, I hope it is this: At Wal-Mart we WANT a seat at that table.
As we see it, our mission has no meaning if we are not focusing on challenges like the ones we are here to address. So today, I want to share a little of what we are learning as we work through our business to make a difference where we can. First, a little context on who we are…
A little background about Wal-Mart:
* 15 countries
* 7,390 stores
* More than 2 million associates
* More than 60,000 suppliers
* More than 200 million customers around the world each week
* Roughly 80% of our business is in the Americas
What many people may not realize is that we are really a very local company. The many different names you will see on our storefronts around the world reflect our local presence.
But no matter the country, the language or the culture, one thing is universal. And that is our mission: saving people money to help them live better.
So we ask ourselves… how can we work through our mission to help solve global challenges? How can we leverage our business to lift individuals from poverty and to boost the competitiveness of the Americas as a whole?
And how can we do so in a way that is sustainable and responsible over time? So that we, in fact, create a better future for our customers and communities around the world.
A big part of the answer is found in the access we provide to affordable, quality goods, helping hard-working families around the world stretch their budgets.
Another part of that answer is in creating more opportunities for more people in more communities … through jobs in our stores and in our global supply chain and the resulting purchasing power that lifts communities.
Let’s talk for a minute about our supply chain.
I mentioned that we have more than 60,000 suppliers from around the world. We source from about 55 countries.
We look to local suppliers to help us deliver better quality products.
When we work with these suppliers, we provide a door to a market of more than 200 million customers around the globe that shop our stores each week. Many of the suppliers we work with start out small… but are able to grow their businesses by exporting their goods to sell in stores throughout the world.
However, sometimes our small local suppliers do not have the capacity to fill our larger-scale needs.
So we are doing something about it.
Let me give you an example of one program we support in Central America. It is called Tierra Fértil.
Through Tierra Fértil, we teach Central American farmers techniques that will help them yield bigger and better harvests. That, in turn, enables them to supply our stores.
In fact, some of the farmers we have worked with have gone from supplying a village… to exporting their produce to other countries. They’ve gone from one-man operations to thriving businesses, employing 20 to 30 employees.
And as Wal-Mart suppliers, they are able to reap the benefits of being in our supplier network. For example, in some cases they have access to much-needed financing or tools that help them better manage their inventory.
At the same time, as much as we might be able to do alone, we know that we can have a much greater impact when we form partnerships.
For example, that is what we are doing today through an alliance called IMARE. We’re working with Mercy Core, U-S-A-I-D and a local organization in Guatemala called Fundacion AGIL that focuses on improving the quality of life for families in rural areas. Together, through IMARE, we are working to help Guatemalan farmers supply our stores… and other retailers, too.
IMARE provides these farmers with a number of resources. It teaches them about production methods such as crop diversification and agricultural standards. It educates farmers about the equipment and support they might need to become successful suppliers to global retailers. And it teaches them more about the business side of farming.
But what is perhaps most important to the long-term success of these farms is that through programs like IMARE or Tierra Fertil, farmers learn sustainable practices. So that from “gate to plate”… land is used in a more responsible way, seeds are planted for the right environmental conditions, and safer, healthier products are available to customers.
Today, this idea that sustainability and competitiveness go hand in hand is fundamental to how Wal-Mart approaches its business.
We see sustainability as more than a matter of protecting the environment. We see it as one of our key tools for making our business more competitive. Quite simply… the less we consume, the greater the savings to our customers.
This puts us at a competitive advantage in our field – because we can deliver the same merchandise to our customers … at the low prices they count on … but in a more efficient way for our business and with less impact on the environment.
And we believe the same is true for any business, regardless of its size or its location in the world.
A couple of years ago, we set three sustainability goals for our company and you can see them here on the screen.
Let me give you an example of how working toward these goals is making our business more competitive.
In California and Hawaii — two states where there is an abundance of sun — we are installing solar panels in many stores. Obviously, it is better for the environment. But it is also saving us hundreds of thousands of dollars — which can then be passed on to our customers through lower prices.
Saving money by using less energy is one thing. But what about a precious commodity like water… that is also integral to public health?
In Mexico, the availability of clean water is a particular challenge. So we are focusing our sustainability efforts around that challenge. We are building wastewater treatment plants in all of our new stores… and retrofitting many of our existing stores with these kinds of facilities.
Learning to use water more efficiently is good for our business… but it’s even better for the health and economic development of the local communities where we operate.
When you think about it, looking at sustainability – and seeing it as a driver for competitiveness – is squarely aligned with the theme of this conference. The few examples I mentioned today are opportunities for us to “think big,” in that area.
Our experience has taught us that we can have the most impact when we develop broad sustainability solutions that lift more than just one store, one community or one company.
As a matter of fact, we are able to accomplish the most when we generate ideas that have real relevance in other industries ... in other companies …and ultimately around the world.
Perhaps the biggest advantage that sustainability brings to the table is the impact it can have on the quality of people’s lives.
Sustainability can also help build entirely new businesses in communities … and make existing ones more efficient … and more competitive.
It can create the pathway for the Americas to become more competitive in the global marketplace.
As a company we’ve only just started down this path. As we look to the future, we see many opportunities to build stronger, more viable communities … and to lay the foundation for a better life for individuals around the world.
We are committed to creating economic opportunity and to supporting development that is sustainable for the long-term. We are committed to leveraging our strengths as a business to help individuals and societies compete and prosper in today’s economy.
And we want to work with YOU to make that vision — our common vision — a reality.
With that, let me thank you for listening. And on behalf of Wal-Mart, thank you for the opportunity to be with you today.
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