Saturday, February 18, 2006

Web posts lay bare thinking at Wal-Mart

Web posts lay bare thinking at Wal-Mart - Technology - International Herald Tribune: "In a confidential, internal Web site for Wal-Mart managers, the company's chief executive, H. Lee Scott Jr., has a rare, unscripted moment when one manager asks him why "the largest company on the planet cannot offer some type of medical retirement benefits?"

Scott first argues that the cost of such benefits would leave Wal-Mart at a competitive disadvantage. But then, clearly annoyed, he suggests that the store manager is disloyal and should consider quitting.

Copies of Scott's postings covering two years were made available to The New York Times by Wal-Mart Watch, a group backed by unions and foundations that is pressing Wal-Mart to improve its wages and benefits. Wal-Mart Watch said it received the postings from a disgruntled manager. While the existence of the Web site, and Scott's participation, has been known, transcripts have never been made public before.

The Web site has a folksy name - Lee's Garage, because Scott pumped gas at his father's service station in Kansas while growing up.

The Web site shows many sides of one of the most powerful executives in the United States. He denounces managers who complain about the company or their subordinates. He frets about the success of a rival retailer, Target. He exhorts employees to act with integrity. He mocks General Motors for problems caused by its generous benefits. He rejects a manager's suggestion that Wal-Mart has created "a culture of fear," and he hails Wal-Mart's response to Hurricane Katrina.

Scott, 56, joined Wal-Mart in 1979 as its assistant trucking manager. Helped by his affable manner and his command of the company's vast distribution system, he was named chief executive in 2000.

Scott appears preoccupied with competitors whose individual store sales are growing faster than Wal-Mart's - Target and Walgreens. Asked about Wal-Mart's stock price, which has fallen 10 percent in the past five years. Scott said: "You cannot have Target or Walgreens beating you day after day after day." Scott wrote that one reason Wal-Mart's same-store sales were growing more slowly than Target's was that Wal-Mart customers earn less and have been squeezed worse by soaring fuel prices."

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