The skyrocket journey of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.—from its humble beginnings in 1950 as Sam Walton’s small-town five-and-dime (below) to the largest company in the world—formed the backdrop for a particularly ambitious LCLD Fellows Learning Experience in Bentonville, Arkansas, in July.

Organized by the Walmart Legal department and hosted by LCLD Board member Karen Roberts, Walmart’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel, the fast-paced, two-day event left three dozen Fellows marveling at the corporation’s modest beginnings—and deeply impressed by the sophistication of the $490-billion-dollar
retailer’s global strategy and operations.

That includes a global Legal department under Roberts’ supervision, who, at any given time, are tending to legal matters all over the world and interacting with all divisions of the company to manage key issues impacting stores, products, customers, and associates.

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Roberts advised the Fellows, recounting her own journey from law school at the University of Arkansas, to her first job in Walmart’s real estate division, to her current position as GC, along with other stops inside the company. It was great training, she said. “With few exceptions, we feel that the company is well served by having lawyers move around and gain broad experience.”

Within Walmart’s vast workforce of 1.4 million US-based employees, 42 percent are people of color; 56 percent are women. Citing the company’s top-down commitment to diversity and inclusion, Roberts also emphasized how Walmart holds outside firms accountable for their performance.

“Over the past five fiscal years, we have spent nearly $190 million dollars with minority-owned law firms or diverse counsel, and there are plenty of great counsel out there,” said Roberts. Walmart also expects other firms to promote women and minorities into positions of responsibility on Walmart legal matters. If not, she said, “We’ll end our relationship with the firm. In the end, you have to trust the people who work for you.”

As if to reinforce the point, Roberts introduced a “who’s who” of Walmart executives to brief the Fellows on their areas of responsibility.

Speakers included Bob Balfe, Vice President and General Counsel for Global Investigations and Security; Laura Wilkin, Senior Vice President for Logistics; Leigh Hopkins, Senior Vice President for International Real Estate; Ben Hasan, Senior Vice President and Chief Culture, Diversity and Inclusion Officer; Craig Sharkey, Vice President and General Counsel, Adam Holland, Senior Director, Privacy and Data Security; Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, Executive Vice President and Treasurer; and Jay Jorgensen, Executive Vice President and Global Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer.

“Don’t let what’s important overrule what’s most important,” said Jorgensen, describing the Walmart philosophy of doing business, which also defines its approach to ethics and compliance.

Jorgensen spoke about supplier garment factories in Bangladesh, where safety incidents led to the tragic deaths of several thousand garment workers in 2012 and 2013. As one of the world’s biggest garment buyers, Walmart is a founding member of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, currently comprised of 28 retailers and suppliers, which works to help improve building, fire, and electrical safety throughout Bangladesh.

“Yes, it’s important for Walmart to have an affordable source of textiles,” said Jorgensen. “What’s more important is saving lives and helping improve working conditions for the people who make our clothes.”

The night before the Learning Experience, Walmart hosted the Fellows at a reception and dinner at the spectacular Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The museum, founded in 2005 by the Walton Family Foundation and chaired by philanthropist and arts patron Alice Walton, daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, houses a permanent collection of art that spans five centuries of American masterworks.

LCLD wishes to especially thank the Walmart Legal department, including Senior Associate General Counsel Lori Chumbler, Project Manager Laci Ledbetter, and Walmart Fellows Alumni Amber Lee Williams and Greg Tesoro —all of whom were instrumental in producing the Learning Experience.

Photo Gallery

Photography by Don Belt.