Sam Walton: The Inside Story of America’s Richest Man.

Sam Walton: The Inside Story of America’s Richest Man. – book reviews

Michael Schrader

SAM WALTON: The Inside Story of America’s Richest Man

The rich, as F. Scott Fitzgerald observed, are different from the rest of us.

But Walton, the richest man in America, has a life-style that defies the stereotype of the super-rich. He dresses inconspicuously, drives a Chevy, lives in an unpretentious house in a small town in Arkansas. He has been married to the same woman for almost five decades. And he is the owner of Wal-Mart, a chain of discount stores that employ 250,000 people and have a sales volume exceeding $30 billion.

This is a rags-to-riches story, in which a determination to work 16-hour days and a constant drive to check out what the competition is doing resulted in the genesis of a retailing giant. Walton grew up in the Depression, was bright and good-looking, and had a flair for business enterprise. He worked his way through college and married a wealthy banker’s daughter.

As the author tells us, Walton’s entry into retailing was to plunge in as a novice into the five-and-ten-cent store business, a Ben Franklin store in Newport, Ark. It was successful, but lease complications led to Walton’s shuttering the shop. He learned quickly from his mistakes, however. By 1992 he had opened the first Wal-Mart Discount Store.

Key to Walton’s vision, we are told, was the importance of customer satisfaction and surrounding himself with a hardworking staff. Employees, called “associates,” are told the customer is always right. A manual lists lots of employee rules. For example, inter-office romances are verboten because workers’ energies should be totally focused on their jobs, not on the dreamboat in the next department.

The financial rewards for Wal-Mart workers who tow the line, we learn, are phenomenal. Thus one office cashier, a woman with only a high-school education, retired with a quarter-million-dollar nest egg saved up in the Wal-Mart profit-sharing plan.

Trimble’s account of Walton and his retailing empire is moving, but it is flawed. Unfortunately, since this is an unauthorized biography and Walton would not consent to be interviewed, the billionaire never emerges as a fully drawn character for the reader. The result is a caricature, and the real, inner spirit of the man somehow eludes us.

Still, this book is an optimistic, instructive saga of strength and wise decisions. It offers hope in these troubled economic times when the turbulent waters of retailing may result in disaster for ships without shrewd captains.

COPYRIGHT 1991 Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group