Nothing «just» happens
After the start of the program with Prathibha, the next two days of my internship were guided by Latriece Watkins, Senior Vice-President of Merchandising of the several vital groups of products
which, among many others, include the beauty industry. Latriece has been working in this company for 20 years now and represents a new generation of successful women in Walmart. I feel close to her because of her manner of speaking briefly and to the point, because she always knows what she wants from her interlocutor, conducts the negotiations in a very thoughtful way (I witnessed a number of her business meetings with contractors) and yet has a wonderful sense of humor.
Latriece shapes my days in such a way that I will be able to see the shops of the company and understand the difference between them (Walmart has a number of different formats for their shops),
visit the meetings with buyers and suppliers, and also attend the film festival in Bentonville where Latriece will be opening one of the panels.
Whenever I mentioned my future journey to Arkansas, it would inevitably spark a smile on the faces of my interlocutors, even Americans. They would tell me that I was about to see the real America, some even laughed a little, saying that I would have to spend the whole 12 days not in a glamorous Los Angeles, but in a humble city of Bentonville with the population of 42,000 people (more than a half of which – are Walmart’s employees).
Nevertheless, this is the place where Sam Walton lived, this is the place where he opened his first store and this is still the place where the main office of the biggest company in the world is located. Thus, I had no choice but to go here. In the end, by the fifth day of being here I fell in love with Bentonville. This town drastically differs from any other “provincial” town – as everything here is connected with Walmart and the richest family in America, the Walton family, members of which are still taking care of their home town.
Exactly when I was in Bentonville this town was hosting a film festival that was founded by an actress Geena Davis (the partner of Susan Sarandon in “Thelma & Louise”). The festival was created to celebrate women in films. In fact, the topic of women empowerment is becoming more and more popular in America, and this festival – is yet another proof of that. Films shot by women interchange with panel discussions about leadership and feminism. One of them – “Controlling your fate” – was opened by Latriece, my mentor. Afterwards, we stayed in the hall in order to listen to the participants, one of them turned out to be miss Davis. Geena confessed that the most popular question she keeps receiving from the journalists is whether “Thelma & Louise” is a feminist movie, and only then do they ask her about Brad Pitt (come on, remember the plot!).
Here as well, thanks to the contribution of Alice Walton, one of the members of the “Walmart family”, a stunning Crystal Bridges Museum was built, the architect being Moshe Safdie. This museum houses one of the most significant collections of the North-American art complemented by the works of Louise Bourgeois, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons, René Magritte and many other classics. The building of the museum perfectly fits into a natural reserve. It is here that you suddenly stop believing that it is all happening in the state of Arkansas, in a small town with a population of 42,000 people.
I went to a dinner in the restaurant located in the museum with my other two mentors – Debbie Hodges and Lisa Schimmelpfenning – two of the top-managers of the company that have been
working here since 1988 and 1993 respectively. During the dinner we’ve discussed the changes in approaches to leadership that occurred during their tenure at Walmart, the roles of women in
corporations and transformations caused by the advent of globalization and new technologies. After the dinner and a guided tour of the museum I had another surprise waiting for me – the start of the Northwest Arkansas Fashion Week. And then a thought crossed my mind that the whole of Bentonville had been preparing for my visit – and that nothing can really surprise me in here because, just like Latriece has been teaching me these days, nothing “just” happens.
When I was about to embark on my program, Shannon Frederick, my POC, kindly asked me what I wanted to do during the weekends (I had 4 weekends in USA during my trip, one of them in
Arkansas). Being in Ukraine and not knowing about my schedule yet, I firmly answered that I plan to work – both on Saturday and Sunday. At least I wanted to continue spending time either with my mentors or with their colleagues. I remember waking up on Saturday morning at 10 AM (all other days I was up at 6AM as my car was waiting for me at 6:30 – usually all of my first meetings in Bentonville started at 7AM) and asking myself – why hadn’t I planned to spend all two days sleeping? I was already overwhelmed with so much new information that I was almost scared to continue to receive even more – that’s what I was thinking when I woke up. Nevertheless, weather was becoming much better, so the city tour of Fayetteville and some shopping planned with Brandi Joplin, Senior Vice President of Global Audit, was my chance to continue my business conversation in an informal format.
I spent an amazing time with Brandi first, when we went to the University of Arkansas, the institution that she had graduated from – and then with Brandi’s family. After almost 2 weeks of intense learning, this break gave me a family atmosphere I so desperately needed – and I also had the opportunity to see the life of small American cities from the inside (during my working days the only placed I stayed were the office and my hotel). Brandi taught me many incredible things and we spent lots of hours talking – on Saturday and following Tuesday, when I had an entire day with her and her team. Being a professional journalist myself, I felt a very strong connection to the audit department, as we both start from asking questions which I still consider to be one of the most important traits of success. It’s hard to describe all the amazing moments I had with my mentors – we shared so many great conversations, some of which will stay with me for the rest of my life. Just like I mentioned in the beginning of this chapter – nothing “just” happens, so I am pretty sure that some of the issues I raised here, in Bentonville, will be further discussed in the future.