Sam Walton’s right-hand man Tommy Smith shares about the character, the drive, intentionality and the management style of Wal-Mart’s co-founder, Sam Walton.
Arthur Blank, Bernie Marcus recruited Tom Smith
Sam Walton receives the Medal of Freedom
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On today’s show, you have an exclusive opportunity to interview Sam Walton ‘s right-hand man, Tommy Smith.
Oh, his desk was wobbly. It has those still are a good block on one corner. Ravi was pressed, wood is like death. You bought these cheap office furniture stores was like, that’s kind of what is best for his. And then his couch, a couch in front of his best was an old bottle count.
Tommy Smith shares with us about the character, the dry, the intentionality, and the management style that allowed Sam Walton to build America’s largest big-box retail store. Sam Walton was famous for flying his own private plane from point a to point B as opposed to flying commercial. And the man who rode with him on those flights was none other than Mr Tommy Smith. Today’s guest,
None to what? Yes. Got It.
Yes, yes, yes and yes. Welcome back to the exciting edition of the thrive time show on your radio yo and podcast download and Dr Z, I want to ask you a question. I don’t want you to play the game with me. I want you to be directly giving me an answer. If you ask me a question, I’m going to give you an answer and you always give me a direct answer. Somebody asks you the hot question number one. Have you ever been to a Walmart? Yes. Okay. Wes Carter, no bs. What’s not was up. Pump up our guests too much here. Have you ever heard of the company Walmart? Yeah, I’ve heard of it. Okay, well on today’s show we have the guy, the guy who helped you create the Walmart Super Center concept. This man works directly with Sam Walton for nearly 20 years and Tom Smith, I am so honored to have you on the show. How are you, sir?
Hey guys, I’m doing great. Good to be here. Appreciate you all having me and look forward to discussing the journey. We hate it.
Well, I want to ask you what is going to start at the bottom? And at the beginning, I’ve read Sam Walton’s book called made in America. As my wife can attest to one of the few books I’ve ever read that when I got to the end of the book, I cried like I was at a funeral. That book is just so good. Um, when did you join Walmart in, what was your role when you first joined Walmart?
I joined Walmart, I guess in the fall of 19, I think it was 1980. And uh, I was hired by named Jay Park guy named Jay Parker. And he hired me, uh, hold a management training. I guess I’m a summer, fall of 1980. And my first job was I went to a store to 80 and Jasper, Alabama. The stove is not open yet. It was, was a dirt parking lot. They had the roof partially on, but we were unloading the freight. You have to understand the Walmart story is, you did whatever it took that matter. If you have the store manager, the vice president on their stock, when you cleaned toilets, you did whatever needs need to be done. But I was unloading trucks, unloaded trucks from, I guess they liked the dark and put merchandise up. But my first paycheck, my job was to answer your question, I was a management trainee and that was a, you can take a it Walmart, you can take a title in a quarter and by myself, a cup of coffee. But the uh, uh,
I was, my first
paycheck stub for two weeks was $115 for two weeks.
A lot of money to me
context who are perhaps not as aware of the Walmart, the story as you are or as I am as a result of doing the research here. Uh, Walmart today has approximately 11,690 plus stores. I say approximate cause they’re always building something. They’re always optimizing stores. And Walmart was started in 1962 by Sam Walton and his brother Bud Walton. Um, what was your uh, when we, when did you first interact with these guys? Cause you were joining Walmart with the store to 80 in the company now has 11,695 stores. So that was kind of early on. I mean, what kind of access did you have with Sam and how did you first meet him?
We actually had, when I went to store to 87 in Jasper, Alabama, there was, we had, I think they were 216 stores in the company. They were actually open. Okay. Um, but we had 216 stores when I joined. And, uh, I first met Sam Walton, that store to 87. Jasper Sam traveled. Sam was his own pilot. He flew people. He was everywhere. And you know, he and I been together in that plane for many, many hours, but Sam flew himself or where we had a grand opening day. We always opened stores on Tuesday. And, and so the store manager was Don Getz, a lovely friend of mine. Steve kept keeping touch with mid bay, but the store manager and assistant managers, they had heard that Mr Sam was coming. You never knew where Sam was. Sam would fly in on a mouse Baria plane at the airport, at the FBO and drive in and surprise the store. He never wanted him by know where he was, but we knew where he was at. Beit grand opening based or two 87 Jasper and old Roy was alive. Sam had been quail hunting. He was a huge quilt hunter. Well, he had Jack Shewmaker, Jack was the president of the company time. We called him the big shoot cause he would come down on you with a big boot and he would fire year.
So, oh I remember. And I was a trained aide so I wasn’t invited to be with a group. So I wanted to meet this man named Sam Walton. We only had, like I said, you know, 215 six things. So, so I remember them saying, here comes Mr. Walton when nobody in the story, he met him cause it was a brand. Lou, you know what I mean? Know the store was brand new. So he comes walking in and old Roy was with him, old Roy dog food and the stores named on Roy. That was actually a real bowl of old Roy was a long-haired corner and uh, one of Sam’s quail dog is the best way old dog and I’ve funded behind old Roy. Well old Roy was with Sam and Jack and they can’t walk it up through the parking lot and uh, old Roy comes in the door and Sam stops and shapes all the management handle. The very first counter in the store was uh, uh, Brock Broc, k Brock, candy counter and old Roy walks right their hikes, his leg and pees on the counter.
I swear to got to this, this y’all at dog pees all over the candy and run it on the floor and I reached back behind the counter to service desk and grab a roll of paper towel and I widen this big roll of Brown paper towel will look and I’m putting my hand on the floor to wipe up the dog pee. And this big huge hand you’ll write on top of my hand. I look up ms Mr Sam on one knee. He said, son, I’ll get that. So I shook Sam Walton’s hand, but the, he had dog pee on his hand and I had dog pee on my end and we shook hands and that’s the day that I met Sam was the grand opening date of store two of these seven Jasper, Alabama.
I think the listeners could easily miss if, if we don’t, if we don’t spend the time to dive on this deep dive on this that Sam had big hands. Uh, well one I think we could deep dive on the fact that they shook hands for the first time while covered in dog. He said it was a big hand. It was a big hand.
Yeah you did. Then. Not many people know this, but Sam was a quarterback at the University of Missouri.
Well there you go.
Oh he was a leader. He’s always been a leader. He was the quarterback of the football team and he had big, big hands it and man, you never wanted to hear those hands wrap the table or hit the table cause you knew when those hands hit the paypal that he meant business. But yeah, he had big hands. He really did.
Sam Walton and his book made in America. It’s discussed that he believes one of his competitive advantages was that he literally could flies on plane and he wouldn’t do it. And he said he would fly out over to the edge of a city and you look out the window and look at where the edge of the development was. And he’s like, well, that’s where we probably need to put in another store right now. And where it was growing too. So he flew his own plane. This is, this is not a something we can just skip over here. And you’ve flown with Sam in his plant. How many times do you think that you and Sam, uh, flew together and you have a favorite story, a favorite trip you went on where you thought, wow, what was the trip?
We flew together umpteen times. I don’t know. I can’t give you a number of probably 70, 80, a hundred times. Uh, but Sam Walton always flew his own. He didn’t, he wouldn’t fly on a plane that the pilots that are hired, pilots flew, he flew his own plane. But the call numbers of his plane was, uh, uh, three 13, j three, the three 13, Juliet. It was a twin-engine, uh, dead Cessna three 18. And, uh, so he flew his own plane. We put a hush kit on it for his Christmas present. One year he got mad at us because we spent too much money, but, uh, and he would take all of the seats out of the plane. It was like a six-seater, maybe eight passengers. He took on during quail season. He’d take all the seats out of the plane and put dog boxes in there so we can haul old Roy and Katie and Molly. And he’s hauled all the bird dogs back and forth, down the foul, furious to go quail hunting. But, uh, and, and he didn’t believe in having a plain detailed, like, you clean your car. That plane stayed full of dog hair for 12 months,
Lou was slam, uh, just numerous, numerous times. Uh, Sam was, uh, the airplane was one of his many competitive advantages. Uh, you never knew where he was. Not many people knew this about Sam, but Sam, he may have had an instrument rating, but he didn’t know how to use the instruments.
Sam Followup highways, he would take a highway map.
He didn’t know how to read the list,
look down at the highway
and he would follow the highway turned. He may take a shortcut going over to the highway over there. He knew how to read the all temperature. He knew how to read the fuel. Uh, when you was it getting close to empty gas? Cause I saw him tapping on the fuel thing a couple of times. I was going, oh my God
But he would get up there and he would, he would fly to the outside of town and he would look in and he would check if they went with a competitor in town, we’ll say a play was a Kmart store. He would buzz the parking lot and turn his wings. This go vertical with the parking lot. And he would count the cars, the customer cars in the Kmart parking
your last day. And he would go with Walmart stores and he’d
count the number of cars in the Walmart parking lot. And I’ll tell you if God blessed the manager who had less cars in Kmart because he was stopping and going to go visit that store, because I wore the responsibility to the customers in America was to lower their cost of living everyday. And if we delivered the quality service and quality products at a lower price every single day with smiling faces and you spoke to the customers, there was no reason they would go anywhere else. So if you had a store that was, had less cars and your competition, there was a problem and he would stop and fix that problem. But that’s what he would land in the towns. And nobody knew where Sam was. Nobody knew where he was. I kept everybody United States on their toes.
How did you break out of the clutter other than covering your hand in urine as a way to attract the attention of Sam Walton?
It’s work. I mean, you know, Walmart, you know, Sam told me one time, guys, people ask me still today, and it’s been a long time. People ask me today it a lot of people think they know what the success of the secret to Walmart was. It boy, there’s distribution, whether it’s you know, it, whether it was the, the, the, the, the replenishment cycles I gave. Everybody has this grandiose my there, excuse me darn idea about what the success of Walmart, he has. One more successful Walmart was his people and Sam believed and every single person, he never shook a person’s hand did. He didn’t believe, and he never shook a person. Sandy didn’t look them in the eye. He never shook the person’s hand. They didn’t care about. And those associates knew it and the management knew it and I knew it. But the key to Walmart, Sam told me one day we were, when we were starting this thing called the super sending, I’ll tell you about that here in a minute.
We didn’t know what, okay. Sam called me in his office one day and he said, Tom, I got this crazy idea. I said, what is the reason I was, uh, I was a regional vice president. I had Oklahoma and Kansas and Missouri and Sam were in a meeting in Bentonville and I look up and I see these big old hands. He through a window, he’s motion than me with his finger to come there. And I opened the door and I said, yes sir. I thought I was in trouble. Yes, sir. He starts walking back to his office. We’d go back to his office and in his office say I’ve never had a door on his office from cause the open door policy, any associate anywhere in the company can walk in his door and his office anytime. Anyway.
No, they didn’t have a door in his office. No, you weren’t ready. And so, and then his counts right in front of the, in front of his, there all his desk was wobbly. It had old cylinder block on one corner of it. It was pressed. Wood is like you buy, you know those desks. Do you buy these cheap office furniture stores today? That’s kind of what his desk was. And then his couch, the couch in front of his desk was an old vinyl couch and the vinyl was split and peeling them off on the side. And they had linoleum tile floors are linoleum floor in his office and he was wealthiest in the world. But you know, Sam told me one day, he said, Tom, and that was going to say, we went into his office and he said, Tom, I got this. I need you to help me. And I said, well, what is it saying? He said I want to sell groceries. And I thought he’d lost his mind. I said you’d want to sell what? He said, I want to sell groceries and I need your help. I said, well, what do you need me to help you with slam? She said, Tom, I want you to help me find a way to convince a lady to put a white blouse on top of a piece of red meat.
And that’s how the supercenter started. And I thought he’d lost his mind. And I said, well, Sam, I, you know what else you going to tell the chairman the company? No, you’re not going to help him. I said, so I gave up my job. I said, and I looked at him. I said, Sam, I’ve worked my whole life, but since I’ve been with you to bid to get promoted to be a regional vice president, I said, you want me to give up his job? And he didn’t hesitate. Said, Yep. I said, okay, I’ll do it.
We were in the plane here. What is your title at that point? I know titles don’t matter a Walmart, but what was your title? Are you the manager of the Super Center? Where you the protege of the man? Were you, what were you the white blouse on the red meat, White Blouse and red meat guy with the year end on the answer.
Oh really? You know what? I don’t know if we had it all right.
We, we took off as kind of funny after I said yes the next morning did. You asked me about a funny story you were saying. I’ll tell you one about me flying with him. This happened the very next day, so I said, yes ma’am, I’ll help you said, great. Meet me at the airport in the morning. I said, okay. Um, Loretta boss was his secretary and Loretta, she were just about to retire. She called me and said, Tom, meet Mr Sam wants you meet him at four 30 in the morning. I said, yes ma’am, I’ll be there. So we meet at the airport at four 30 get a cup of coffee. They pull a Sam’s like, cause you never know when Sam, I tell you this in his book, people said they tried to beat Mr Sam to the office. Nobody could ever beat Sam to the office.
He was, he was, whether you got there at four o’clock, four 15, four 30 he was always in his office working. But so we pull, they pull them at Sam’s plane out and everything. And so it’s probably four 45 and Sam and I get in the plane and Sam cranks it up. Like you get in your car in the morning, you crank it up, just put it in reverse and back out of the driveway. Say, I’m frank, the plane up, crank the engine to the right cause we got in the door on the left and crank the engine to the right. He was already in a, in the pilot seat. I closed the door and he’s already taxi and out to the end runway. He doesn’t run any checks. He don’t do check lists. He didn’t do anything right. Just like your car, you push the gas in room.
So we’re taking off on my first morning with in the Super Center Division, I was a division director of the Super Center, so we’d take off down the in Rogers, Arkansas and we’re just, we’re just hauling butt down the runway about to take off. And Sam pulls back on the yoke and the damn pen is still in the rear, uh, uh, flaps. He forgot to take the pin out of the flaps. He went, oh. And he reached out and shut the engines down and we turned around, actually turned ramps into runway. Sam got out of the plane, pull the pin out of the flaps and we took off.
Well, we, we started the test it, the thing was a past and we didn’t know what we’re doing. We didn’t know how to get in the food business. We, uh, we partnered with some guy, he was a mayor, actually the mayor out of Dallas and it was a, Oh, I want to say Tom Thumb, I forget his name. He was a mayor. He passed, I heard he passed away now. Really Good Gab. Oh, we started with three, what they call hyper Mark Usa. We opened the first loser three really huge towards the first one was in Garlington, Texas. A second one was in Arlington and third was in Topeka, Kansas. Oh, stores are like 240,000 square feet. So I would charge to the buyers in Walmart and a buyer. This was a buyers, you know, vape back. They’d died and gone to heaven, but to, to buy products, offline products, much higher, uh, scale products to attract as many people as you could get into a store.
Because if it was a laboratory, those first three stores where a laboratory of how to generate a traffic, be revenue and see has to handle the freight and what kind of volume you could produce. There was only really one combo retailers of any, any count in the United States at the time. And we studied them. It was car for, it was big and big buzz out of Cincinnati. And we studied those guys a lot and, and kind of tried to emulate some of the stuff they did. Cause Sam was always, he would take if you were good at something and he would beat you at it without you knowing about it. And, but when you found out he’d beat you, then he was already better than you. And, but we’ve opened these three stores and Garland, Arlington in Topeka did tremendous, tremendous Var. That was also our first entry into the fuel gasoline.
We open those three convenience stores and found out that we could say a more gas than in front or refinery could deliver us. We found out we could sell more groceries then the trucks could bring him. Oh. But we didn’t know how to make any money. We were losing money really. You know, we were losing a lot of money and I remember going over to Sam and Helen’s house every Sunday morning. Sam would go over the PNLs and stuff like that and then go over there and, and I was all depressed cause I’d never lost money. But Sam said so on, just keep your head up, we’re going to bring all figured this thing out. So after about a year, maybe, I don’t know, eight months, we figured out Kinda what little bit about what we’re doing. We were partnerships with a guy in Dallas. Walmart’s not a good partnership.
Anybody Irrational? You’re going partnership, Walmart. Just walk away because Walmart likes to dominate partnerships. You’ve got to get alone. Walmart dominates at the time. So we opened the, had a store in Washington, Missouri, I think it will store 63 and we re located that store from one side of the road to the other side. It was a 60,000 square foot store. I think we built 120,000 square foot store. We doubled the size on the store, moved in across the street and opened the super center and a grand opening they get stored. Did right at $1 million grand opening day am it had gone. I think that store probably did. I think Washington did 20 million a year before we read before we relocated it. Wow. The year that we relocated it, it went from 20 million to 73 million.
We knew then we had, we knew then we had a winner. Yeah.
I have a question for you that I think a lot of our listeners, when I want to ask you, you spent hundreds of hours. How many, I mean you spent a ridiculous amount of time with Sam. You’re with them on a consistent basis. You’re just so many hours. You still want to man. What was he really like? You know, you saw the Barbara Walters feature where they’re asking them about p and worth $1 billion. You’ve heard the myths which have turned out to be true. Z about the driving, the old beat up truck having the beat up couch. What was he like up close and personal. And what was your relationship? How would you describe what your relationship with Sam was like?
Hello Sam Morton. I did my father. Oh, Sam was like my dad. Oh. Sam was like all of our dads. He would, he would bust your butt when you didn’t perform, but he put his arm Ranjan and tell you thank you when you did. Um, Sam told me one day and that we were talking about the secret of Walmart. Here’s the secret to Walmart guys as people. And he told me one day when we were losing money and I was all and everything. He told me one day we were walking to a store, I think we were in a, I forget where we were. It may have been, uh, Wagner, Oklahoma. We were walking in a store one day and he said, son, let me tell you something. When I looked at him, I said, yes sir. He said, you got to remember something. We’re not in the retail business. We’re in the people business and we just happen to be selling merchandise.
And it hit me like a ton of bricks. I said, Damon, he, you know, he this man, right? And then later on that afternoon he, he said, did you understand what I say? And I said, yes sir. He said, Tom, let me tell you how to be successful in this business. And I looked at him, I said, yes sir. He said, Tom, higher below average people pay them an above average wage. Treat them with dignity and respect and they’ll be loyal forever and will always be with you.
Could you repeat that again? There was was really, really good and I’m just trying to marinate on that and we’re trying to take notes on that. Could you repeat that again or paraphrase that again? That was good.
Sure. He said, you know, he said, Sunday, you want to know how to become successful in this business? I said, yes sir. He said, son, if you will always hire below average people, pay them an above average wage, treat them with dignity and respect. They will be loyal and with you forever.
That is gut. Gee, that is a knowledge that dog, that dog will hunt and it’ll be on your candy.
You look around the country today, dude. Nobody, you know what I, some of us old guys, me and they had Maggie and, and a lot of the guys, my buddies, you know, we have left, we still talk everyday. And then here we thought about getting together and putting a retailer together. We’d kick, kick, kick everybody’s butt come. Nobody practices at any more today.
Yeah. What would you name it? Nail. Probably name, but I don’t know what
that’s your left to give me some time.
Sam Walton. Um, he’s a guy who led a certain way and you can take this as far as you want in my opinion. Uh, we’re, we’re right now we’re on the, the, the, the Tom at time show. So you, you have the floor here when you left Walmart, right. Cause when Sam passed, I would like for you to share about what it was like watching your dear friend and father figure, um, battling till the end. What was Sam Walton like during those last couple of years and what were you going through as you were watching him fight for his life?
Well, I can give you firsthand knowledge of that. Not many people cannot. At that time. I had, we had grown the supercenter division. I don’t know, we had, I don’t know, maybe a hundred and 50 supercenters. And I had gotten to a point where I, it, I was ready to do something different. And I went, I took over the state of Texas, the state of Texas, I want to say, I forget how many stores we had in the state. I want to say that
381 or maybe 400 stores in Texas. And so I went from a, I ran the whole develop the whole supercenter concept division and all that kind of stuff. And then I went to Texas and him, you heard me say earlier that Sam had 87,000 acres. Well, I didn’t tell you how many acres, but Sam got 87,000 or had 87,000 acres. And foul fear is Texas. And that’s what’s the quail hunt. He would always take his management down. Mayor, he would take, uh, you want to know how keen Sam boys before he hired a, an executive from another company or anywhere he would take them quail hunting.
You found out a lot about a man with a gun in his hand. ESC cautious this, he think before he shoots this, he protect the dog. They’ll see, just shoot and aim or does he aim and shoot or does he look at his surroundings? That was Sam’s interview. You then you sit around the fire and you talk to a man about his wife and his family and in his church sitting around the fire, you go find out a whole lot more about him than you are sitting in a, in a, in a steel shirt sitting around on interview type. So everybody we hired, I basically went quail hunting with us. But uh, Sam had that hunting land down there and I basically took care of his land. Sam got sick and you know, he, everybody’s, he tried though. And I’ll tell you the day he found out he got sick, we had been hunting down at the ranch and we sent everybody home.
This, we had 100 for like three weeks straight and he would bring vendors down. He would bring those boots, boots are district managers down. He bring the, I’m the regional vice presidents down and then the divisional come down and I’d stay there and help him close up the camp and a load all the dogs up, close it up when bird season was over every year. And a slam head dog climb. But he left his keys to the old go red truck you’re talking about. I’ve been at many times, but it’s in a, in Bentonville now. But he left the keys to the truck inside the ice room and the ice room. Everybody left with quail VP freeze it and hit a clean it and freeze it. And everybody left with a cooler recoil packed on ice where he had left his keys in this, uh, Isiah and he looked over and it was locked and he saw him laying over there on top of Warner with cougars.
And he broke the window of the Ice House, which I had to get fixed, but he broke the window and he climbed through the window, the Ice House to get his keys. Well, they had a, Sam always work, you see in his pictures in has been the books and stuff. They always wore a dog whistle. When he was hunting to call his dog, he got a dog whistle and he, when he climbed through the window, he thought that that whistle press to get the whistle pressed against his sternum and his chest and he thought he’d just bruised the bone in his chest. Well it continued to hurt and I saw him pressed on it a couple of times and then we’ll make two or three, four weeks. And what it was is best when the bone cancer started. So it’s, that’s where, that’s when he found out he better go to the doctors.
That’s when bone cancer started. But then you can move, move forward. You know, two or three years I had Texas and Sam, we brought Sam, but Sam had all kinds of experimental treatments all over the country. All over the world for that matter. We brought him to MD Anderson and Sam and Helen stayed at MB Anderson. And, uh, when Sam began to get really sick, you got to stand. He visited stores every day. Y’All don’t understand. He of his associates with all of his heart, with all of his might and he loved his customers. And because the, the better and associate could do, the more they could benefit their family, the more their family, you know, we could lower the cost of living for the customers and everybody won. But when Sam got really sick, I was down there and Sam was a very, very modest man.
And, uh, I remember going to MD Anderson and, um, Miss Helen, but asked me if I saw Tom, do you mind to give Sam a bath today? Because Sam didn’t, I mean, he was just very modest and I helped Sam take a bath. He’d look at me, say, okay, boy, are we going to go visit some stores? Miss Helen, but big and Sam, please don’t go visit the stores please. You’re not strong enough. Well, you know what we did, I think his name was, I forget the guy’s name was in the pharmacy division. Westley right. Wesley rights deal live and he’s a great guy. You want to talk to him? He’s an awesome guy. I think it was Wesley that helped us make a belt for slam to wrap around as little waste. And I could put my hand behind his coat and hold him up.
That was putting my handle, a velcro type handle. We would walk Sam Bruce Stores and when he did his knees bulk of little bit, we’d just hold him up. We walked Pham, he was so sick, we won’t end. He had a pump on his side. It was pumping at six picks, bare metal sheet blood, I think was what they were doing. Testing some stuff. We’d walk Sam through the stores and he’d go to two or three stores in a day and he would just look at me and shake his head. When it was time to go, then I would get him taking back up to MD Anderson. Um, but you know, the book doesn’t do it justice. He loved his people. He loved every single one of us. And, uh, I remember Rob Walton, his son rob, who ended up being the chairman of the board. Rob called me, I want to say it was a Thursday afternoon. He called me and said, Tom, are you in Houston? I said yes. And they said, we’re coming to get dad. And Rob had bought rob Barto so citation, I think it was a citation five or something. Sam hated to spend money. Good God Almighty. He, Sam always wanted a, I don’t think he’d let us buy was prop planes, turboprop plane or rob. His son goes up by the citation, but he was really mad at rob. Found the citation,
Too much money. And Sam was on the front cover of every magazine in the world is, you know, the wealthiest man in the world. And Sam was pissed off because his son bought a jet, but he called me and said, Tom, we’re coming to get bad. So I remember, uh, going to Houston, West Lakeside airport, it was about six 30 that night. Uh, rob landed. Rob was flying the plane. We went in the, they brought Sam and hamlets and we loaded him up, uh, in Rob’s plane and flew him back home. That was close to the end. And then we, Sam went home and that he couldn’t stay home long. He went down the hospital, then her and, uh, I think was Springdale and uh, I guess the next week that’s when President Bush came and, and uh, we were there when he got the medal of freedom and I was standing right there and Sam Medal of freedom. He was in a wheelchair. He couldn’t stand up. And the, what do you call this folks? FBI who was CIO, who have they come through and make sure he’s sweet
Yeah. They were trying to tell us what to do with hell. They didn’t know they was at Walmart. We did what we want to do, not what they want us to be. A Sam was standing up or Sam got on the stage and, and I still have the video tape when you can Google it and watch it. And with President Bush breaks up when he’s talking to Sam about him giving this speech, but the presidential medal of freedom and was unable to stand, and President Bush was going to hook the medal around his neck and Sam stopped him. He put his hand out and he stopped him. And Sam looked over at his wife Helen, and he shook his head no with her. And then he grabbed a hold of that wheelchair, those arms, that wheelchair. And he stood up by himself. He didn’t want any help.
He stood up. There wasn’t a dry eye anywhere. It was like, that’s the man. That’s what he always be. If he stood up for us, he fought for us. He fought that cancer and that stuff just got him. But you know what? That doesn’t matter. His spirit lives on, it lives on today in me. It lives on today day. A lot of us across this country, unfortunately, you know the people that never met Sam, uh, they, they work at Walmart today. The folks that know Sam and know his beliefs and his heart and how we built, we listen. When I went to work for Walmart, we didn’t have a modular, we didn’t have a schematic. We didn’t have, we had the order, our own merchandise. We had unloaded off the trucks. We had to get the damn green ticket guns and put green sticker there is own it and then we don’t chill. And then we had to go up front and run the registers. And you know, the three foot rule, you know what the three foot rule is? No. If any customer ever comes in three foot, uh, you, you do three things, you look them, you smile, you look them in the eye and you greet them. Oh Wow. Every sing. Oh and if you got caught not following three foot rule, you just, hey, why not? Because the customer is the only reason we were there. Yeah.
How is it different now than it was when you were there? Man, if I had one word to say how different, I mean what’s different about it? It’s a people. People was a strict back then and I think people is the weakness today. Walmart has all of the systems. They got the trucks, they got all the technology that money can buy. They can buy all of the merchandise that they want. They can buy just the cheapest price they can buy from channel. They can buy it from Indonesia thing, but whatever. Money is not an obstacle to Walmart. Walmart can bowel the real estate they want. They can hire all the contractors. They won’t. They are the king of whatever you want them to be the king, but what’s holding them back to the day he is the lack of focus on people because you see, I don’t care if people talking about these millennials with all these tattoos and all this and the, I hear these things, young people, they don’t get it.
Let me tell you, some people are people today just like they were people in 19 in the eighties just like the word in the 1950s if you treat people with dignity and respect, they’re going to respond and they’re going to do what you asked them to do. They may speak a little bit different language and they may look a little bit different than we did back in the, you know, 60 seventies and eighties but they’re still red blooded. God Fair and Americans for the most part. But Walmart has gotten away. They think that the, the, I don’t know what you’d call them, Phds and all these folks will always damn, computer degrees are smarter. Then the store manager who’s out there with the associates on the sales floor every day. You know how many jacks jumping jacks, shit I buy the store managers and Walmart today can’t buy any merchandise.
A human being inside of Walmart store, they cannot order any merchandise. A computer does it. Back when we were coming up, when we built Walmart, we ordered every single piece of merchandise in. There wasn’t no computer ordering, nothing. It was all ordered about people. So every item has a season and every season has an item. So you say a more jack in we in July are you say a more coloring book. When in June when you go in and everybody buys coloring books and colors, taking the car when you’re killing vacation. So the kids that showed up,
when do you sell the most? You know,
you know, when do you sell the most plastic worms if proficiencies on a computer don’t know that damn stuff. People the, so the difference did they and Walmart, whether it’s, it’s all over the, it’s not just Walmart gas, I’m going to picking a Walmart. I love Walmart, but it’s, it’s, it’s people. They’ve lost the emphasis of people and they, uh, are hiring people based on their degrees versus their people skills. And I don’t get, it’s all about people guys. I don’t care whether you’re selling merchandise or real estate or cars or you’re selling computer equipment, it’s all about people. Because you know, what takes people to push the buttons.
You know what I’d like to see this up here. I’ve got two final questions for Noz has a great question for you in west does, after Walmart, you went on to have a continue a very successful career. Can you share with the listeners your next role, the next big retailer you went to work with after Walmart. Okay.
Yeah. I left Walmart and went to work for home depot. I got a phone call one day from a guy named, I never didn’t know the guy’s name was Bernie Marcus. And he called me and he said, Hey Thomas, Bernie Marcus. I said, I’m sorry, Mr Marcus. I don’t know who you are. I’m Tom Smith. He says, yeah, I know who you are. Should say Sam. While we said you were one of his best ones, I’d like to know if he would come to Atlanta and talk to me and Bernie and me. And the Arthur did was I said, who’s Arthur? He said, Arthur blank. He and I, we’re the co founders of Home Depot. I said, well sure, I’ll come talk to you. So they came and picked me up. I flew to Atlanta, we went to chops in book. He had that night. And uh, they offered me a job.
They, the question they had for me was Tom, they knew I had done the super centers and they said, Tom, how does home depot continue to grow in through the year or two to, this is kind of funny. Tells how old I am. I mean I just, home depot continue to grow through the year 2020 if we’re only serving MSA populations a 500,000 or greater, which Apps, you know, serving cds, they knew they needed to get in smaller markets across the country. And that’s what I don’t know, but I’ll find out. So I took a job with, with uh, uh, home depot and created a new division of Home Depot called the crossroads a crossroad. I don’t know if you guys were city slickers, you’d really don’t know what a cross rodeo anytime or anytime where road meets, that’s where an intersection is. Yeah, that’s our county seats were formed where farmers could get to town and get back home on their, on their horse and buggies before the sun went down.
And that’s where the county seats and so forth where roads cross or where people meet. So we created a new division called crossroads and Home Depot and that division was up and running. Uh, we ran it, I don’t know, maybe three or four years and then we’ll be was folded back into the home depot because we figured out how to run it and fold it back in the home depot. And after Home Depot, I met these, uh, these, I call them surfer dudes if John and Randy Price. Uh, they kept trying to get me to come out to California for, I don’t know, three, four, five years. And I kept saying, no, I’m a, I’m a, I’m a son and gamble. I’m a gentleman. Opened doors for ladies. And I say, yes ma’am. No ma’am, thank you. And pleasing. I wouldn’t be California wasn’t for me. Well, I guess it was, I went out in California and was the CEO of this company called Fry’s electronics.
Uh, we had I think seven or eight star wars at the time. And uh, we grew that company from top of that. I think we were doing $100 million when I got there. And when I left, we did 2.8 billion. Oh, was there or for I guess five years, little right at five years. And then I had the opportunity to go to a company and I’d never bet always been in successful companies and I got a phone call one day from a pay at a hundred that used to work for me at Walmart and she wanted to know if I wanted to go to Boston and well, Hey, do you know you go from San Jose, California, Boston, that’s by far as you can go west wet, you know, I’ll talk to him. I went up there and that code a red eye and flew to Boston and I met with this, these guys up there and, and they offered me a job, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
And make long story short, I ended up at a place called Bradley. Bradley’s was, you may or may not have heard of Bradley’s. They’re out of business today, but they’re like the target of the northeast. They were an upscale, kind of like higher than Walmart. They sold a higher quality goods and Walmart and they were in a bankruptcy chapter 11 and we, you know, I kind of put some programs and some people in place and brought some people with me and kind of retool that thing and has some good leadership there. And we, you know, got Bradley’s back on the, uh, mass deck. It wasn’t a New York Stock Exchange. Got It. At least on Nasdaq. Did that for a few years. And then I got a phone from out East Boston is a wonderful place to visit. Not Complete.
It’s just cold up there guys. And on April the 17th, it snowed 19 inches and it took me two hours to get five miles. I got home and my wife said, are you ready to get Outta here? I said, hey, are you yeah, I’m really good. I, so anyway, oh, I call that he had hung a friend of mine, Elaine Ericsson. Hey Elaine, if you listen to, but anyway, uh, and the ended up with an interview for a place called wh Smith never heard of it. There was a larger, the oldest retailer in the world. Wow. Uh, based, based out of London to Manchester, England. Uh, they are in all the hotels and airports around the world. And you, you’ve seen them in there in airports and hotels, depth gauge, Smith Bookstores, Smith booksellers. And uh, so I took that job, um, as I ran North America, which United States, Canada, the Caribbean islands, Dominican Republic, uh, Hawaii, we’ve acquired a couple of company or companies in South America, in Santiago down there.
And it was great, dude, I’m going to take, some people are really, really fun. The yield and a nine 11, he hit well, you’re in a trap with business and planes flying the towers and they shut travel down. The world changed. So, uh, after 18 months of, after, after nine 11 trying to get the business back, bump gate sum me up, sold um, the US operations to the Hudson Group. So if you’re an airport protest, you now you see Hudson news or the Hudson Group. That’s, that is, that’s wh Smith. Okay. All those stores are debates Smith. I did that for, I ran those stores and we sold out two hoods and well, when we sold out, I played golf for about six months, eight months. And my wife told me I was losing my mind because it needs to go back to work. I told my wife I wanted to go home. I’m originally from Meridian, Mississippi. I grew up in this metropolis area, Call York, Alabama, uh, population. The whole population of the county is 3,200 people and I loved it.
Oh Wow. There’s a danger.
Yeah. And I, you know, oh, say and you spend the first 18 years of your life trying to get out of your hometown. You spend the rest of your life trying to get back to your hometown. I wish, you know, I’ve loved it was the best place in the world have to grow up as a kid and the child, but originally from Meridian, grew up in York, Alabama. And uh, I told my wife one day, I said, baby, I want to go home. And my wife, Eleanor’s from Chicago, inner city chicks.
God, no, you don’t want to go back home. There, you don’t want to go back home. You don’t want to go. Yeah. And she,
right. And I mean, she grew up looking at Wrigley field on Dover Street and I said, I want to go home. And she looked at me and she said, Mississippi. And I said, yeah, baby, I want to go home. So bless her heart. We, uh, we ended up back in Mississippi, uh, 16 yeah. Over 16 years ago. And that came here and I look, I knew that I was, I was done with the corporate world. I have after 28 years in the corporate world, it’s almost 29 years. I started looking around the state of Mississippi to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I knew I wasn’t going to work for anybody else. I had done that for, you know, 27, 28, 29 years. And, uh, and I don’t, you figured me, I’m pretty pretty blunt by now, but I don’t mean anything disparaging by this, but I went in trying to figure out what I was going to do, ran the state and I was always had a keen interest in land and real estate. But I’ve always been an outdoors man, a hunter, a fisherman, I’ve always loved the outdoors. I went in 30 40 real estate offices from across the state, North East, South Tennessee, lines of the Gulf coast, and about 95% of the folks I met in real estate were dumber than a book or rocks.
And I told my wife and Ellen’s got her masters
from Pepperdine. She owned a couple of businesses and we had sold them along the way. I’m, I’m a businessman, my wife is a business woman and I told Ellen one night, I said, I think I figured out what I wanted to do. She said, what is that? And I said, I don’t want to get involved in real estate because there’s a huge opportunity in the state of Mississippi in real estate. And Ellen looked at me, she said, you know, I do too. I want to get involved in real estate. I said, why haven’t you ever told me that she said you cause you’ve never asked me that. Well, 16 years ago we both got involved in real estate business and here we are and we operate Tom Smith. We own Tom Smith, Landon homes. Uh, we, we got the largest, we sell more land than anybody in the state. We’re probably one of the top five largest land companies in the southeastern part of the country.
Can people see photos of you there too? I know they can see photos of property. Can they see photos of you there too? If they go there right now?
yeah. Late. Unfortunately. That’s fine. Looking man. I’m again right here. That the seed. That’s why people are going there. People are going there for the eye. Candy. You nosy. I want to ask you this. Here. You have the floors that you can ask. You can ask Tom. I ask you this. What is the tough question you have for Tom? Well, I’ve got kind of a fun question. Thank you first of all for your time and your story. It’s been delightful. And, and you know, that’s a, that’s a little bit of American history right there. I mean, Walmart is, is, I mean that’s American history, Sam Walton and all that insight. That’s, that’s awesome. That’s really fun. Uh, but you said you opened up, uh, approximately a hundred super centers before you kind of went off to the next, the next thing. What was, what was the most successful one? What? Which one made the most money? Do you, do you recall? Top of your head or what have you, what have your top producers,
oh, McAlester Oklahoma was really good.
Yeah, they’re in the prison. Well that’s nice. Yeah.
Yeah. God, there’s a bunch of them, dude, though.
That’s a small market and Mcalester is probably what I mean, that’s not all people get deserted. Thousand people get discharged from prison. They want to buy all the coach cause they’ve been in prison. I got to buy all the stuff. That makes sense. That makes sense.
What we found was it didn’t take a rocket scientist. You all these college graduates didn’t figure this crap out,
you take a Walmart. You know how we figured that we did it by the old fashioned way. We took the checks of people used to write by hand, we’d take the checks and we’d go through and write them all down where their address was and figuring out where people were driving from my far they would drive. So when we opened the supercenter, we did the people back in the cash office and the system managers, before we’d write the oldest stuff down, we’ll figure out the folks were driving as far as a hundred miles away to come buy groceries. So I were trade territory with from about 20 miles, 30 miles up to a hundred miles. So you were getting three times of the population coming into a store is what you normally would get with a normal Walmart store because everybody’s got to eat. Don’t nobody have to shoot squirrels on Saturday afternoon, but everybody’s got to eat.
So you know whether or not your sporting goods department got bigger or not. You add food to it, you’re going to sell more sporting goods cause you’ve got three times or twice as three times as many people. So three times as many people shop in the same size sporting goods department, you’re going to sell three times more guns. You’re going to sell three times more rifles. I’m more of shales. You’re going to sell three time more of the fishing rods. And the same is true for arts and crafts or domestics or or underwear or whatever you’re going to listen to because when you bring that much in, so it took us a while. But you know, the successful stores, they it, we didn’t have them put it to this way. We didn’t close any stores. Well Walmart, we owned the closed one store that I was ever, ever associated, but it really was. Sam was alive. We only closed one Walmart store and that was Rob’s town in Texas. It was called robbers town. That store never made a profit because it was so much stuff going on. It was the highest they’ll store in the United States.
I didn’t try it and try it, but we never, we never made a dime profit out of that store. And we closed it after I get Rob’s town was open probably 15 years before we close. We lost. Oh yeah. I’ll give you the most fun story that I can about a supercenter. Wagner, Oklahoma. You probably don’t even know where that is.
Oh, I went to high school 20 miles from where we are right now,
dude. Yeah. You’ll end this black. No one was a black girl for home. I had the smallest Walmart store in the United States, or 20 (980) 820-9000 808 square feet. That’s the smallest store we ever opened. Well, Wagner had one lead. The man manager’s name was Joe. Oh, it just hit me. I see his face and that’s been 40 years ago. Joe Galli ball hit a joke. But anyway, so whether, whether Rob’s, whether it was Christmas week or January, the second week in January, Wagner, the volume really never changed it. Did y’all gonna Laugh at this? But I remember it. It did $30,000 a week. Wow. Whether it was in December or whether it was in January or June, basically robbed. I mean the, uh, Wagner did $30,000 a week. You do the budgets for Wagner, Oklahoma did a 1,000,005 a year. Well, Sam Wood, wood wind people up prior to coil season. Do you understand what I mean when I say why and people love,
he would challenge you. He would. He would, uh, he would tell you that he thinks you can do more and telling us at that time that we can do more. Like tell him the football team that, you know, there are a bunch of sissies. They go run over you. Well, Sam would wind us up before coil season. Well, Sam had told me, he said, Tom, I think we got something here. He said, we know we can do business in these bigger markets. We know we can triple our volume. We’re doing 60 million, 70 million. He said, we just about got it figured out. But he said the word just about my ears perked up. And he said, I wonder how small of a market we can open a supercenter in. He shouldn’t have said that. So Sam goes up, quail hunting, um, see was in charge of real estate department at time.
He was a senior vice president, real estate. We’d go off and we’d buy 18 acres of land in Wagner, Oklahoma, right across the street from where the store was, right on the corner right there. It’s probably still there today. I hadn’t been there in 30 years, but uh, or 20 year. What did 30 years. We opened a Wagner, a supercenter in Wagner, Oklahoma. The store was 29,808 square feet. We opened the hub. We built 140,000 square foot building and wag. I thought Sam was going to stroke out. That’s the only time I was thought he was going to fire me. I really did. I thought, man, I am gone. So we had the grand opening and it was a joke amongst the company. People said, Smith, you’re gone. This thing is never going to be successful. Bubble, bubble ball. Wagner, Oklahoma. Let me tell you something guys. I’ll never forget this as long as I live, when I’m going to tell on myself. If Sam were living, he would kind of laugh. Oh, we opened that store, we had the grand opening at eight o’clock in the morning and by nine 30 I kind of snuck outside and I went around behind the garden center back where the truck wheels were and I got to tell you, I’m not going to let I smoke. I was smoking those [inaudible] was a sneak in the smoke.
And because I’m thinking I’m, you know, I’m, I’m, I’m going to beat by will at nine 30 in the morning, we had traffic. They had, we had state troopers were directing traffic. We had every sheriff department directing traffic. We had traffic backed up to Tulsa just about, and the parking lot, the parking lot was full. And I’m sneaking a cigarette and I feel this hand on my shoulder and I look over and you gotta understand. Sam hated, he hated two things. He hated tobacco and he hated alcohol. Sitting there with that, hit my mouth at cigarette, he’s out. Threw it down and he looked at me, he said, son, I’m picking up.
You need this.
He said, you need to enjoy that
podcast in 2017 in a population of Wagner, Oklahoma is 8,904 people. That’s 2017 more square footage and people. That’s a, now think about this. There is still, I’m looking at it right now in Google earth. There’s a Murphy USA there. There’s an Arvest bank over there. There’s a a Armstrong Bank. Opponents to key. You gotta get to banks right there. You got one, they’ve got account and you got to get the money somewhere of course, has kind of a branch of of Walmart. You’ve got a McDonald’s there. I’ll get the [inaudible] specifically growing up in Muskogee. Oh, everybody loaded up in the car. Go the supercenter and Wagner. Really?
Because at that time I don’t believe Muskogee had won and did.
Yeah. Was the Tom Smoking a cigarette the bat to catch that? Let’s called the Big Walmart. Walmart. I’m not going to say that you owe Tom, thank you. But you know, just throwing that out there. Thank you.
What am I real good friends. Terry Parker was a store manager to Muskogee or great guy. I don’t know where he is. I don’t know if he’s still living. And he was a great guy. Remember Terry? But yeah, I didn’t know. I didn’t know Wagner had a McDonald’s dude. They’ve gotten big time man
outlying parcel at the super center now west. What is your final tough question for Mr Tom Smith, the man who helped Sam Walton to create the Walmart supercenters.
So Tom, I always try to glean maybe a little bit of practical advice. So I’m wondering, and all those years of Walmart, the way to some really cool companies, you had to do a lot of hiring. You saw Sam doing hiring for those of us that don’t have thousands of acres to go quail hunt, any tips you can give our listeners for characteristics or personalities that you saw that, uh, made those better employees or anything that you looked out for when you were, you were hiring new people?
Absolutely. Here’s three things. I mean, you know, I don’t care what kind of degree you got, I don’t care what you do. And you know where I sit and I look at our company we got today and I, you know, I’ve got w we’ve got the best team, we’ve, we’ve got a family here. We like these guys and gals got each other’s back. Like, look out for each other. We, we laugh together, we cry together, we make money together. And you know, it’s just, it’s all about family. But there’s three things, you know, you, you find out in about 15 minutes if you’re sitting and talking to somebody, if they got three things lined up and, uh, or are they, are they right in their face? Oh, they’re right where their family and if they’re right with the, with their employer and their honest God fearing people, I’ll give him a chance.
You know, I’ve given people you, some of the most successful people is, is, uh, these, these folks coming home to the military, all they need is a chance. And you give them a chance and they, they’ll perform like you’ve never seen, but you don’t need a college degree to be successful. And if you got to college interview, that’s Great. Wonderful. I’ve got one of those too. But you know, it’s never helped me make a dime, but it’s, it’s all about looking people in the eye. You can tell if somebody’s honest and about 30 seconds and they ain’t got to say a word, you know, look out. And it’s just about finding the right folks with the right heart that, that want to chance. And if, if you motivate them, you show them that you care about them, you got to care about their family, get out of their way. You know, I’ve always believed in letting people make mistake. People make mistakes every day. We all do, but don’t make the same mistake twice.
But yeah, you know, I don’t know. I don’t know if I answered your question right.
Get right with your faith, your family, and they’re your past employer or your current employer. My final question for you, will our listeners love to read books that could help them? You know, books, they are very practical. You are a come across as a very well read man, or you’ve had a career that spans multiple decades. You’re doing well now in another career. Now are really doing well in real estate out there. Um, is there a specific book that you would recommend for all of our listeners?
Throwback. I’m kind of an old, old type gap. I believe in basics. I believe in things at work. And I guess too, I recommend two books to anybody. I don’t care what Ben Machine, where you run on the airlines are flipping. Mcdonald’s is seven habits of effective people. It’s a good one. I don’t care. You are successful. People have successful habits.
Unsuccessful people have unsuccessful habits. Don’t care who y’all. Seven habits of highly successful people. That’s by Steven Cubby and another one, the one my favorites is thriving on chaos. Oh, by Tom Peters. Um, Peters and one of the best business authors and motivational offers that you’re ever going to read. I don’t know if Tom’s around 80 more or not, but uh, those are two hellacious books you ought to read. They’re good. They’re good business books and for any leader listening to him ran country around the world, they need to read those two books because those are two books that I hang my hat on.
Tami, thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to be here on, on today’s show. Are you have blown my mind many, many times. I know Z, appreciate you being here. I know West doesn’t our listeners loved hearing these stories. Uh, thank you again so much and we hope you haven’t. Just an awesome evening and hit the road. Uh, but don’t hit it too hard, right. Take care of Tommy. As soon as the show gets edited, I’ll send you a link so you can share it. We’re done.