Episode 258: Lessons in Leadership, Career Pivots and Motivation from Brett Biggs

January 10 , 2024  |  By Brent Williams

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This week on the Be Epic podcast, Brent engages in a fascinating conversation with Brett Biggs, the former CFO of Walmart. He is currently a Senior Advisor for Blackstone and member of the board of directors for Adobe, Procter & Gamble and Yum! Brands. Their discussion spans a range of topics including Brett's early career experiences, his journey to becoming a CFO, and his personal insights on management and motivation. Brett's narrative reflects how his initial pursuit of a medical career in college took a sharp turn towards accounting, a path that ultimately led him to top leadership roles in major corporations. Brent and Brett also delve into the world of mergers and acquisitions, recounting Brett's time at Leggett & Platt where he acquired significant experience in the field. This episode offers a unique glimpse into the life and career of a key player in the global business landscape, providing listeners with valuable insights into leadership, career transitions, and the dynamic world of M&A, finance and retail.

Podcast Episode

Episode Transcript

Brett Biggs  0:00  
Boy I learned really for the first time how each person is so unique and what they're motivated by. And some people need a pat on the back to be motivated. Sometimes somebody needs a little bit, a little bit of a little bit of a shove to be motivated. But you have to do that and managing people takes a lot of energy. But it's great. It's the best part of any job in my career.

Brent Williams  0:23  
Welcome to the Be Epic Podcast, brought to you by the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. I'm your host, Brent Williams. Together, we'll explore the dynamic landscape of business and uncover the strategies, insights and stories that drive business today. Well, today I have with me, Brett Biggs. And Brett is the former CFO of Walmart and serves as a board member for Procter and Gamble, Yum! Brands, and Adobe and also a Senior Advisor for Blackstone. Brett, thank you for joining us. 

Brett Biggs  0:59  
Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks. 

Brent Williams  1:01  
Well, super excited to get to dig in a little bit with you. But before we get to, you know, your time as CFO at Walmart and what you're doing now, I'd love for you to walk us through your history and kind of what are some of the experiences that really helped shape you?

Brett Biggs  1:18  
Yeah, so back to being born or a little later?

Brent Williams  1:22  
We can go a little later than that.

Brett Biggs  1:23  
I am a I am a native Texan, which sometimes doesn't sit well at University of Arkansas. But we've lived here for 23 years now. And my girls have grown up here. So 

Brent Williams  1:32  

Brett Biggs  1:33  
I consider myself an Arkansan. Yeah, I went to school at Harding University. So not far from here in Arkansas and had the chance to play golf, there wasn't really good enough to be D1. So I got a chance to play golf at Harding. And, and also it was a it was a great accounting school. And I actually thought I wanted to be pre med, like a lot of students do. And then I took my first organic chemistry class, and that was it. And I was, I was not intended to be 

Brent Williams  2:01  
New path. 

Brett Biggs  2:02  
I was not intended to be a doctor. So I don't actually remember choosing accounting. But Harding had a great accounting school. And so ended up in accounting. And soon as I took a class, it just it fit me. Things equaling on the left and the right made sense to me. And so that's that's kind of how it started in accounting. I met my wife at Harding, and we've been married, I need to get this right, almost 32 years. 

Brent Williams  2:29  
Okay. Congratulations. 

Brett Biggs  2:31  
Thank you. I have two daughters. My younger one maybe ends up at the University of Arkansas, potentially. So she's a Rogers High.

Brent Williams  2:38  
So I've got some work to do.

Brett Biggs  2:39  
We'll see how that goes. Yeah, started at Harding and then, like almost everybody in accounting at Harding went public accounting. And so I started out Price Waterhouse. And I was in I was at PW, it wasn't even PwC. That's how old I am. It was PW, you know, year and a half or so and wasn't crazy about auditing. I think my parents were concerned that I just didn't like to work. But I just auditing wasn't my thing. So I went to work at Phillips Petroleum Company in Oklahoma, and did kind of FP and A roles, accounting roles for about five years, but I went got my MBA. While I did that, I actually looked at going back full time. And just decided I liked my job and decided to go part time. So I went Oklahoma State, part time. I'm sure U of A had a great program at that time. But I just it was in Oklahoma. So I went to, got it from Oklahoma State. And I'm glad I did it. I wasn't sure exactly what I would do with it at some point. But I knew it was investing in myself. And yeah, I think it was it was it took four years. It was a 64 hour program, which they don't do those anymore. 

Brent Williams  3:47  
No, they don't. 

Brett Biggs  3:48  
Yeah, so it was it 

Brent Williams  3:49  
We don't

Brett Biggs  3:50  
It was but I'm glad I did it. And it really opened up some doors I think later in my career, not just the title but but the the disciplines that I learned, you know, during that period of time, so went to work at Leggett & Platt, which is in Carthage, Missouri.

Brent Williams  4:08  
So you went from public accounting your in energy for a little while and now manufacturing

Brett Biggs  4:13  
I really just I wanted to do something, wasn't sure what, but outside of a little bit, maybe outside of accounting, but in business

Brent Williams  4:21  

Brett Biggs  4:22  
And I got a chance. There was, this is when you found jobs in the newspaper. This is the old Tulsa World came to our house and they had a it was Leggett & Platt, happened to be where my wife was from Carthage, Missouri. And they were looking for an m&a analyst. So I thought mergers and acquisitions that'll be interesting. So I convinced them somehow that I could analyze mergers and acquisitions. And during that four year period of time at Leggett & Platt, we did probably 100 acquisitions, I remember but really, it was it was an m&a bootcamp and so really learned I did deals on my own at some point And that's where I learned to do m&a, a great company. And then I got called one day to, to see if I would consider by headhunters and see if I consider going to Walmart. And that's one of those ones you stop and think. Yeah, I love I love Leggett & Platt, but I've, I've got to go look at this and it was to be basically their number two m&a person

Brent Williams  5:21  

Brett Biggs  5:22  
In international and so that's how I entered the company was through mergers and acquisitions and international I spent over my entire 23 years I spent 10 years in International. 

Brent Williams  5:33  
Really, ok

Brett Biggs  5:33  
So I've seen seen a lot of the world. 

Brent Williams  5:36  
Lots of miles?

Brett Biggs  5:37  
Lots of miles. Yeah, so that's kind of how I got to Walmart.

Brent Williams  5:40  
Okay. And then so you started in m&a. And then you know that career inside Walmart just started to blossom.

Brett Biggs  5:47  
Yeah, we had, we had just when I came in, we had just bought Asda in the UK. So we'd had, we'd had some operations in Mexico and Brazil, maybe Argentina, I think, at that point, but we're just becoming an international company. 

Brent Williams  6:01  

Brett Biggs  6:02  
And I think at that time, maybe we had 20 billion in revenue, something like that, in in international, but we didn't have a pipeline of deals. And so for the first three or four years, I was on the road really trying to generate a pipeline, meeting, whether its founders, bankers, you know, company CEOs, and the one of the great things and terrifying things about Walmart was I was, when I went there I was 32 years old. So I'm doing this in my early 30s. And you're almost wondering why is this company

Brent Williams  6:33  
Really big deals, right

Brett Biggs  6:34  
Why is this company letting me do this. And I learned that throughout my entire career at Walmart, that they'll, they'll let you go about as far as you can go. And but it was, it was great. We grew and we grew in Brazil, grew in Central America, grew in Japan, grew in China, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Chile, we, we did a number of deals that, you know, not only help us build what became over $100 billion part of the business, but places where we learned and brought things back to the US, for instance, our grocery business, a lot of the early learnings for our grocery business are from Asda, in the UK, and quality and private label and all those things we really learned from Asda, learned somewhat in Japan. I probably spent the most time in Japan, when we bought a company called Seiyu in 2003. I, over five years, I was there at least two years over that period of time. I was in Japan a lot. I was in Brazil a lot. And then at the toward the end of my m&a time. And then later on as CFO of International, and then CFO of the company I spent a lot of time in India.

Okay, you know what. I want to ask you a question about m&a.


Brent Williams  7:43  
You know, sort of looking back at what you, what you learned, either more broadly or specific to Walmart, however you want to

Brett Biggs  7:49  
What to do and what to not to do

Brent Williams  7:51  
Well or, like, you know, the deals that you really say like, oh, that worked, you know, like any any key like factors that someone you know, in that type of role are considering m&a should be thinking about

Brett Biggs  8:04  
I would say, you know, candidly, a lot of your learnings come from what you wish you wouldn't have done we, when I, when I came in, we had done a couple of deals in Germany, two or three years before, and we ended up getting out of Germany in 2006. That was one of the things I did in m&a. But taking an American business into a foreign country, and particularly in a country that consumers shop differently than they do in the US. And you may think well, it's Europe, it's very similar to the US. Not in places like Germany, where they're very used to their, their certain type of retailer more discount retail, customers go to different shops to buy different things. The concept of Walmart, in theory was great. The application of doing Walmart, like we would have done it in the US was quite different.

Brent Williams  8:58  

Brett Biggs  8:58  
But there are great learnings from that that I think, paid off later on. And there are certain times where, you know, you look at a strategy put together I'll give Japan is as an instance, when we went into Japan, you know, there was an idea that that could be a $25-30 billion market for us and for Walmart, you need scale you need you've got to do something that's big. And over time felt like we could roll up that industry a little bit in Japan all this is public. And just didn't quite work out that way. It was we bought a tough business and made it a lot better. And by the time we we sold it, it was in much better position than when we bought it but we just weren't able to kind of roll up that industry like we wanted to. UK was amazing, great investment for us for that long period of time. And then at some point, sometimes if it makes sense for someone else to own it,

Brent Williams  9:50  

Brett Biggs  9:50  
Then you do so it's not that well I wish you wouldn't have bought Asda. It's things change and you want to do things differently. The most successful international business we've had is Mexico.

Brent Williams  9:59  

Brett Biggs  9:59  
Far and away. And a lot of things that worked well there we had a great partner, particularly early on, we became a public company. And which allows you to compensate people in country with with something that's in their country allows you to I think work with the government differently because you're a Mexican company. But we had almost any kind of format, you could think of some multi format where we could, we could appeal to all the different income levels in Mexico and is quite wide in a place like Mexico, put in small small towns, big cities, and incredible operating model. It's called WalMex. But our success there's been I think it's unrivaled in the world. I don't, I don't I think WalMex is maybe might be the best retailer in the world.

Brent Williams  10:54  

Brett Biggs  10:56  
It's part of Walmart, who's really, really good. yeah, but WalMex is incredible.


Brent Williams  11:02  
Well, I interrupted you. But you know, I had to ask that question. Because it's quite a unique experience to get to go

Brett Biggs  11:08  

Brent Williams  11:08  
Work on those types of deals all across the world.

Brett Biggs  11:10  
Yeah. And sometimes, you know, you do deals that were great 15 years ago, that now your strategy changes in Walmart strategies changed a lot because of what's going on with E commerce. And you just have, you have to prioritize different things. And it doesn't mean what you did 15 years ago was was a mistake. And I think Walmart got a lot better at that. I think early in my tenure, if we stopped something or shut something down, it felt like a mistake, or a failure. I think the company evolved a lot over the last 20 years to say, hey, that's just it's not a priority now, we're not going to do that anymore. So that we can go do you know, work on India, the things that we want to do and grocery delivery. I think the company matured a lot.

Brent Williams  11:53  
Well, I think one thing you said that I find so interesting is I don't know if you said in all those experiences, but I expect that to be true, that you probably learned something that you brought back into the US.

Brett Biggs  12:03  
Oh, yeah. Always. Always. A lot of times those people, yeah, bring people and we would, you know, take people in the US their entire careers and send them to a different country. And it gave us those opportunities.

Brent Williams  12:15  
So you're doing m&a and then you know, what's the next step within Walmart?

Brett Biggs  12:19  
Yeah, I got asked to be assistant treasurer. And so I'm, I'm being asked to go from this, travel the world job to managing cash basically, around the world. And I'll be honest, I was not really excited about it. And little did I know, six months in we had the financial crisis in 2008. And so the world changed. It was great to be Walmart, when you go through a financial crisis and be a double A rated credit. But it was it was difficult. It was difficult for our suppliers, it was difficult for, you know, associates and you know, similar some of things we saw in the pandemic, it was a really tough period of time. And so I learned a lot about not just how to manage money, but banking, relationships and relationships matter. It's not just hey, I've got a contract with you. It's what do you do when the rubber is really hitting the road? And you, you, you need that relationship that you've developed all those years. And, you know, the way we treated partners, I think came back to our benefit during that period of time. Because, you know, people were there to help us when we, as we're going through that period of time. Then I went to Sam's Club, 

Brent Williams  13:32  

Brett Biggs  13:32  
Went to be CFO, my first CFO job at Sam's and Sam's is one of the best parts of Walmart. I was there for two and a half years, but about a year into my CFO tenure. My boss at the time was Brian Cornell, who's the CEO at Target now. He he said, you seem to like and you enjoy being in stores and you enjoy, you know, operations. I said, I really do. And he said, would you consider ever going in operations and never thought about it? So I did.

Brent Williams  14:02  
So you go from a CFO role to

Brett Biggs  14:03  
I would surprise some people that I would go do that. Now I'm reporting to one of my former peers, the head of operations, so I moved to Dallas with my family, 

Brent Williams  14:11  

Brett Biggs  14:11  
And I have basically the southern half of the United States. That 240 clubs, something like that. But I'd gone for managing, like 55 people with my largest group now to 42,000 people. 

Brent Williams  14:25  
It's a little bit of changing scale, 

Brett Biggs  14:26  
No training manual on this. But I had the chief operating officer with my boss and he was great to give me enough leash to learn but not too much leash to leash to really be a problem. I learned working with people that were not finance majors really for the first time and they'd grown up in operations and many of my direct reports all knew more than I did, about operations and life candidly. And so, you know, trying to bring to that job what I was good at and I couldn't become them. 

Brent Williams  15:02  

Brett Biggs  15:02  
They were great. They knew operations backwards and forwards, I had to learn enough to be credible. But there were things that I could do. And you know, whether that's just leadership, communicating. Financially, obviously, how do you look at a p&l? I think I was able to bring some things that maybe hadn't been thought about in that way.

Brent Williams  15:24  
So sounds like that particular role, had a big impact on shape and who you became, 

Brett Biggs  15:29  

Brent Williams  15:30  
As a leader

Brett Biggs  15:30  
Big impact and humbled me. 

Brent Williams  15:33  

Brett Biggs  15:33  
Which was probably necessary at that point in my career, and prepared me. You know, what, it wasn't a job, nobody's gonna let me break anything that shouldn't be broken. But I got to fail a couple of times in some things, and that I learned how to be resilient, I think and learn how to communicate with people when we had a bad when we had a bad month. How do you realizing that whatever you say, is going to find its way down indirectly to 42,000 people? And how you say it. I learned yeah, I learned a lot about me. I think during that period, time, what I was good at what I wasn't good at.

Brent Williams  16:18  
Well, and you know, the way the way you said that, you know, does, at least to me shows humility. Like, you know, you knew

Brett Biggs  16:24  
I didn't have a choice being humbled.

Brent Williams  16:27  
Well, you're leading a bunch of people that know a lot more about at least operations. 

Brett Biggs  16:31  
Oh, yeah. 

Brent Williams  16:32  
I mean, I think as a as a leader, coming in recognizing that and then recognize, like, alright, well, I bring something unique too. How do I how do I kind of shape the world in that way?

Brett Biggs  16:42  
I'll never forget a conversations with a guy that that worked for me. And he, he was I was a bit of an experiment in that job. And he would have been a very logical person to have that job. And eventually, he got the job after I did. We were in the car one day, and I'd been in, we'd been in a club visit. And I'd said something to the effect of, hey, I'm, I'm not an expert here. But let me tell you a couple of things I see. And he said, whether I think you should be the boss, or whether you think you should be the boss, you're the boss. So start acting like it.

Brent Williams  17:17  

Brett Biggs  17:21  
That's operations it's very direct. 

Brent Williams  17:22  
Yeah, that's right. 

Brett Biggs  17:23  
Very direct place in the world. 

Brent Williams  17:24  
That's right. 

Brett Biggs  17:24  
So yeah, but it was helpful. I was like, alright, it's time to go.

Brent Williams  17:27  
Yeah. Do you go from that role into CFO?

Brett Biggs  17:30  
No, I went from that role in the CFO of the US. 

Brent Williams  17:32  

Brett Biggs  17:33  
So it's the first time I've been in Walmart at that time 13 years and never been in the US business. 

Brent Williams  17:38  

Brett Biggs  17:39  
Other than Sam's, I hadn't been in the big US supercenter business. So a CFO did that for two years. And that's, that's the first time I think, where I really felt the weight of the company. And that if you have a bad quarter, and Walmart US, the company has a bad quarter. And so as you're turning dials, you'd be really careful of how you do that. And, but worked with amazing people at in Walmart US and loved it, just fantastic job. So I did that for two years. And then my boss at time Charles Holly said, he brought me into his office he said sometimes there's things you want to do in life. Sometimes there are things you don't want to do. This is one of those latter. And we need you to go back and be CFO of International we've, he goes I know, it's not what you want to do. But this is what we need you to do so I was like, alright. And it was fine. I went back. And, you know, I knew a lot of what we were doing, I had done in my earlier part of international. So I knew the ins and outs of international and it would have changed a lot things have changed during that period of time that I've been gone. And so you have to reflect and then do some things differently. But so I did that for a couple years and then was asked to be CFO of the company.

Brent Williams  19:02  
Well, pretty interesting, right? So operations, US International. And

Brett Biggs  19:08  
I mean, in hindsight, my career couldn't have been managed better than it than it was and wasn't. It wasn't always obvious. And, you know, hindsight, and I tell people this sometimes, particularly a place like Walmart, you know, if you would have said, give me your 10 year plan, I would have missed opportunities. So it's great to have a plan. 

Brent Williams  19:29  

Brett Biggs  19:30  
But don't be burdened by it.

Brent Williams  19:32  
Yeah. Well, and you know, I mean, paths aren't linear always. And so it's and honestly, it's a lot of fun to embrace that once you embrace it.

Brett Biggs  19:42  
Well, in the in the yeah. And you know, in the, when I took the assisstant treasurer role, I actually had people ask if I'd been demoted, like my friends and I wasn't sure actually, I maybe I was, I don't know. And then again, when I went into operations, people were like, what? Like, what are you you're doing and you seem to be on this trajectory to maybe have a shot at the CFO role. This feels like a, you're moving out of Bentonville, you're going to work for one of your former peers. What are you doing? And I just knew I had people that thought it was a good idea. In hindsight, had I not had that job, I, I'd be a different person,

Brent Williams  20:24  
You seemed open to saying yes.

Brett Biggs  20:27  
I was for that one, the Assistant Treasurer, if you asked my former boss, he would say I really did not handle that well. And matter of fact, when I, I tell people this when I finally decided, it was decided I was going to do this. But when I finally decided that I was going to do this, the I was having this when you back in your desk phones, and the CEOs name came up was Lee Scott. And Lee was funny and sarcastic. And he goes, so I hear you finally decided to pull your head out of your butt, and do what we asked you to do. And he said next time, how about not make it so difficult? 

Brent Williams  21:08  
Again, fairly direct, right? 

Brett Biggs  21:09  
Fairly direct. And it was like, Yes, sir. So when they came the second time, I was like, yeah, sure, whatever you think.

Brent Williams  21:17  
Got it. Now I see the learning process. 

Brett Biggs  21:20  
Yes, there was a learning process in there.

Brent Williams  21:22  
You know, so Brett serving as CEO of, you know, largest company in the CFO of 

Brett Biggs  21:27  
Yeah, I don't want I don't want Doug's job. 

Brent Williams  21:29  
The largest company in the world is a pretty unique experience. 

Brett Biggs  21:34  

Brent Williams  21:36  
Just kind of interested in you know, how did that evolve? What all did you learn? I know, there's probably 1000 things you could say just a couple of the key.

Brett Biggs  21:45  
You know, it's interesting, when Doug, Doug asked me, I remember I'll never forget the day I went in his office and he said, hey, we'd like you to be CFO of Walmart. And you kind of get chills up your spine, I still do when I think about it. And I had never worked for Doug, we had missed each other our entire careers. And I said, how do you know, I'm the guy. And he said, cuz, obviously I've, you know, been aware of you views as you come to the company. Because I know a lot of people who think you're the guy, and I really trust them. Which is kind of how Walmart works. It's it was a lot of group involvement decisions, and you take people you can't know everything about Walmart. So you've got to take people's advice. And, and so he was that was an interesting conversation. The job, I was in it for almost seven years, the role at the end was very different than what it was at the start. Primarily because the strategy was so different. When I left versus when I started as we got much heavier into online grocery and E commerce and and even one day, Doug, I'll never forget, Doug said to me, I think it was the first day I was on the job. He said, you're going to have to my exact words, your, you have to unlearn some things that you've learned coming through the company, and you're gonna have to forgive yourself for some decisions you made that you'd probably have to undo. I thought that was great. It was, it was kind of liberating to because there were things that came along where you were like, why did we do that? Why was I a part of that decision? And 

Brent Williams  23:28  

Brett Biggs  23:29  
You know, sometimes they were bad decisions. But sometimes it was just it was 10 years ago, what in the world had changed dramatically

Brent Williams  23:35  
And leading people to, you know, so he gave you the license, you know, to be able to think that way and feel that way?

Brett Biggs  23:42  
Yeah. And, you know, and I said, look, my background is very different than Charles and. And he goes, but that's, you know, that's, that's kind of what we need for the next five years, and the person came up behind me, he's got a different background than I do. And that's what you need for the next five years and you learn, you know, how people in the right place right time and, and, you know, then you need a different type of person, which is, you know, that's okay. That's what that's what organizations are meant to do.

Brent Williams  24:10  
So the strategy shifted 

Brett Biggs  24:13  

Brent Williams  24:14  
And so how does that affect the CFO role?

Brett Biggs  24:18  
Well, when I first came in, I think two days after I was announced, we went to the street and said, We've got to take our earnings down. We got to invest in stores, we got to invest in E commerce. We've been under investing, and we've got to go do this. And you can imagine what the reaction stock was at that day, it went down 10-15% over a few days, and now we're trading at 12 times earnings. 

Brent Williams  24:44  
Welcome to the role, right? 

Brett Biggs  24:45  
Yeah, I mean, I wasn't you know, officially in the role, but it was, you know, here, here you go. And I always appreciate actually my predecessor took that hit for me before before I came on, but, you know, I was coming in in a very different situation. because we had been wildly successful, but our comps were slowing down. And there were just signs that an Amazon was becoming a juggernaut. And, you know, one of the one of the best books I ever read was pretty much spot on for Walmart, which was called Innovators Dilemma by Clay Christensen. And if you haven't read it, you need to read it. Because it talks about companies that didn't reinvent themselves, because they were doing so well. And Walmart would be a perfect example of that. And by not reinventing themselves, someone else helped reinvent them, and put them out of business, which is, you know, we had Walmart and I mean and Kmart and Sears had ignored us for a long time until it was too late. And to some degree, we had kind of, we didn't ignore Amazon, but we had not fully leaned into what that business model looked like. And we were emboldened that they weren't profitable, you know, well, their not profitable, that just doesn't make any sense. Why would we do that? And then, all of a sudden, they came up with AWS, Amazon Web Services. And within three years, they were like 30 billion in cash flow. Like, wow, okay. Game on. And that was most of my tenure was kind of during that period of time where Amazon and was really growing, we slow down our store growth, which was tough one, because we had we built stores, that's kind of what we did as Walmart. And we had grown 2-3-400 supercenters, sometimes in a year, which is staggering, that we were able to even put up that many stores. But now all of a sudden, you know, the stores aren't, you know, maybe the new ones weren't returning quite as well as you would like. And people are shifting to e commerce. And we were behind. We were in Doug kind of said that in 2000, October 2015, we're behind. And now we've got to catch up. And I think to his credit, in particular, and the board's credit, and Walmart's in a very, very different place in 2023, than it was 2015. And Doug was interesting. He's, you know, been with the company, 30 plus years, grew up in the company, so the least likely person to change a company, somebody's been there their entire life. And he managed to change how we viewed ourselves and how and how the view world viewed us when we went from a 12, multiple 26, 27 multiple, while our earnings really weren't growing all that much. But did it without changing the culture is really hard to do.

Brent Williams  27:45  
Which if you wouldn't have grown up in the company, that would have been a part that's probably hard to do. Right?

Brett Biggs  27:50  
Yeah, I mean, culture evolved and, you know, we're gonna have a new home office, and we're gonna have to recruit differently than we did. And there's, you know, different types of skill sets inside the company. But that gut of the culture, Sam Walton would recognize it. No doubt about it.

Brent Williams  28:06  
What was your favorite part of the job?

Brett Biggs  28:10  
Oh, I mean, I, people, I and it's the part, it's a bit of why I'm here today on campus, I miss, I miss interacting with mentoring. You do it in different ways. But when you have a group that large and you get to see people get promoted, where I was talking to earlier about Brandi Joplin, who's a U of A grad and

Brent Williams  28:32  

Brett Biggs  28:33  
The day, I got to promote her to be head of internal audit, why she wanted that job I don't know but she wanted Internal Audit job. And being able to promote her was just that's hard to replicate. Watching someone grow and, you know, and other people where you feel like, where people were really direct with me in my career actually made me comfortable being more direct with people when I saw something that was holding them back from being great. Maybe they were good, but not great. And you see that element change, and they become great. And you had some small part of that. I don't think you can replicate that. Really hard.

Brent Williams  29:14  
Yeah. Well, you know, you've you've retired you don't seem really retired to me. There's a lot of responsibility. So what what's the day look like for you?

Brett Biggs  29:27  
I wanted to have a longer kind of second phase of my career. I was pretty sure I wanted to do that. And so I'm on you mentioned I'm on three boards and they're all very different, which is something I wanted I want something in tech to keep me connected to that world. So Adobe, and now with what they're doing Adobe is doing in AI is right at the forefront of tech. P&G is like watching Walmart from the other side. And so there's a lot of experience I have that can be you know, hopefully helpful to to a company like Procter and Gamble. Great company, great reputation. And then Yum! Brands, which is very, very operational, very multi unit they have 55,000 units. So that kind of felt familiar to me. So I've got two boards that feel a little familiar. I've got one that's a little over my head at times in Adobe. And then I wanted to do you know my background in m&a, I always enjoyed that. And so doing some advisory work with Blackstone is, but even within part of the reason I chose Blackstone, and they were nice enough to let me come on board is they have that scale that Walmart has. And I like I you ask me things like about Walmart, I like the scale of Walmart, because there's so many things you can do in the world, you're you get your hands in a little bit of everything which I enjoyed and Blackstone's very similar, it's kind of what's going on in the world. Blackstone's involved in it. And so, you know, I can work on m&a, I can help them with existing companies. I do some CFO mentoring, there's a lot of different things that I didn't start at Walmart that I can think I can do at Blackstone as well. 

Brent Williams  31:02  
Sounds like 

Brett Biggs  31:03  
and I get to do things like this, which I really I mean, to be fair to everybody listening, I asked to do this, this this, this is not you guys ask I came and said, hey, how can I help? And because I really enjoy being involved on campus, and you know giving back in ways that people gave back to me.

Brent Williams  31:24  
Well, as everyone listening could imagine, that was a pretty easy, yes. It's actually one of the things that, you know, when I kind of drill in and think about the Walton College, I, I tell people all the time that I feel like one thing that's a little unique here, you know, and in our state in Northwest Arkansas is the business community is tightly connected, you know, and so, you know, we have the advantage to really get it engage companies and people and professionals in what we're doing in the business. So you know, from, from teaching to various kinds of experiences, like we're doing today. And so, you know, you'll be interacting with students throughout the day. But just as you think about, you know, our students, early career professionals, people building their career, as you look back, and I know, you've got a, you know, much of a second phase, you know, to go, but as you look back, any just key advice you would offer up?

Brett Biggs  32:26  
Yeah, we've I recruited a lot of students from here 

Brent Williams  32:29  
Yes you did, 

Brett Biggs  32:30  
which was always good, good for the company. You know, we were talking a little bit about it earlier. You come to university to learn, you're worried about your GPA, and you should be as a parent, I will say that you should be worried about your GPA. But it's, it's experiences that you can get in these four years. Where it's leading people, learning how to interact with people, learning how to interact with your professors that are, you know, older than you interacting with different types of people that, you know, if you grew up in one, maybe grew up a small town, you come to a place like this, and all of a sudden, you're with people from all over the world. They're learning to interact in that environment. Because when we, when we are hiring people that, you know, speak for Walmart, but I would assume other companies as well. If you're if you're interviewing with us, we probably know your, your, your GPA is pretty good. And somebody has said something good about you to get you to that interview. But are you curious? So while you're here, you know, learning I tell students read them. If you're not reading the Wall Street Journal, what are you doing? Like you should know what's going on in the world. Be curious, ask great questions. What's your energy level like? Do you look like somebody that's going to not only work hard, but just be productive? The main thing too, though, is candidly do I? Do I like you? Are you likable when we interview because I've got to assess how are you going to relate to people across the organization, because you may be great your job, but if you can't communicate what you're doing, or you can't work with the person in the cubicle or in the department next to you. It's just not going to be enough. It might be enough for three or four years of your career. But after that, and if you want to get promoted, and you know, go on to do what you want to do., working with people, being a leader, you don't have to have a large group to be a leader leading in events and activities. That's what we're looking for. All right. Do you know what's going on in the world? It seems simple, but a lot of students I've interviewed don't, and they don't actually seem that curious about what's going on in the world. If you come to a place like Walmart, you kind of need to know what's going on in the world.

Brent Williams  34:48  
I think you said this earlier used a phrase something like the soft skills are really the hard skills. 

Brett Biggs  34:53  

Brent Williams  34:54  
Maybe the hard skills to develop.

Brett Biggs  34:56  
They are and I think I think they're teachable. I gotta asked one time do you think those are inborn? All of us have DNA and there's some of that that's I mean, I can be extroverted ish. But you can I think you can, you can teach people and they can learn to interact with people differently. And you know, so when he's brought other shell, I think you can do that so

Brent Williams  35:21  
I think so till you know, and I think it's one thing about, you know, a business school and a business school like ours. I encourage, you know, students take advantage of everything you can, you know, classroom is critically important, but it's all the other things that that make up the experience of whether that's internships or simply, you know, come and spend a few minutes with you. Getting some coaching, some mentoring, and

Brett Biggs  35:45  
That doesn't mean be in 12 clubs on campus, but find a couple and get some leadership positions, make a difference. Tell me what you achieved in those couple of years you were president of the business club or whatever it is on campus.

Brent Williams  35:59  
Absolutely. Well, thank you for spending time with us today.

Brett Biggs  36:02  
Yeah, my pleasure.

Brent Williams  36:03  
And what a career and I look forward to seeing what's going to happen in the future. 

Brett Biggs  36:08  

Brent Williams  36:09  
On behalf of the Walton College thank you for joining us for this captivating conversation. To stay connected and never miss an episode, simply search for Be Epic on your preferred podcast service.

Brent D. Williams

Dr. Brent D. Williams serves as the Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas and holder of the Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair.

With a deep commitment to fostering excellence in business education and thought leadership, Dr. Williams brings a wealth of experience to his role, shaping the future of the college and its impact on students and the business community. A native Arkansan, Dr. Williams earned his Ph.D. in Business Administration from the University of Arkansas, specializing in supply chain management.

As the Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Dr. Williams is focused on advancing the college toward its vision of being a catalyst for transforming the lives of its students and a thought leader in business.