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Episode 210: Navigating a Changing Retail Landscape with John Furner

January 18, 2023  |  By Matt Waller

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This week on the podcast Matt sits down with President and CEO of Walmart U.S., John Furner as part of the CEO Series. They begin with an intriguing conversation what has most prepared John for his current position, including doing challenging things like taking on a role in China with Walmart. He encourages the audience to do the same because doing hard things can often help you to learn the most. He also touches on the importance of servant leadership and trust that leads to innovation. Matt and John then discuss the idea of change and John shares advice about how to prepare for it especially as a student who is entering the work environment. The discussion then leads into the changes Walmart has experienced and the way that they approach changes in the industry and experimenting with new opportunities. The conversation finishes out by discussing how Walmart has shifted their merchandising strategy as a result of the omni-channel transformation and how Walmart is driving future efficiencies in their business to save customers money so they can live better.

Episode Transcript

John Furner  0:00  
The world is going to move on with or without us at its pace, so you have to stay at least at its pace or ahead of it. And then the third thing to think about is be willing to disrupt the thing that you already did.

Matt Waller  0:13  
Excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality. These are the values of the Sam M. Walton College of Business explores in education, business and the lives of people we meet every day, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Walton College and welcome to the Be Epic podcast. For the next few episodes, I will share conversations with top CEOs about the future of the workplace. The pandemic has transformed the way that we work, and we discuss their predictions for the future. I have with me today, John Furner, President and CEO of Walmart, U.S. John has an extensive background. He has been president and CEO of Walmart U.S. now for three years. He was president and CEO of Sam's Club prior to this for about three years. He also has experienced being Senior Vice President and ch-chief marketing and chief merchandising, merchandising Officer of Walmart, China, for two years in Shenzen. He has lots of experience at Sam's Club, and Walmart prior to this, and he graduated from the Walton College in 1996. Thank you, John, for joining me today. I really appreciate it.

John Furner  1:33  
Yea Matt, thanks for having me. And I think when I graduated, it was still just the College of Business at the University of Arkansas. So great to hear the name in there every time we refer to the college now.

Matt Waller  1:45  
Yes, well, you're right, two years after you graduated, the largest gift at the time ever given to a public business school was given and it just changed our trajectory, we were able to go out and get amazing faculty members. I'm just thankful I was here before that happened. But we got great faculty, and were able to provide scholarships to keep wonderful students from Arkansas in Arkansas. But, but John, you know, your career is with Walmart, which is very impressive. And now being the CEO of Walmart U.S.. You know, just to think, you know, over a 25 year period, roughly, you all of a sudden are not all of a sudden, I mean, three years ago, you were and you've you've you've been in lots of different positions. I'd like to know, which can you pick out a few positions that you've had, or experiences in your career that have most prepared you for this position as president and CEO of Walmart U.S.?

John Furner  3:01  
Sure. Yeah. Matt there probably a few we could talk about, I think you know most recently had the opportunity that I had to go to China for three years and and work in Asia, you've done that as well. It was one of those experiences where you just see and experience so much more than you can when you're in the same town, state that you've been in for a while. And in my case, I had been running global sourcing at Sam's, Sam's Club for a few years. And so I've always enjoyed really love traveling and experiencing other cultures. I like doing things that are that are different. And I honestly really like things that are that are hard. And when the experience was was offered to move to China with my family, it was, it wasn't no it was how quickly can we get to yes. And how do we make it work? And we did. And that the changes that were going on in Asia at that time, it was really becoming digital from a paper based society in many ways, all happening right when I was there, so I got to experience and be a part of a pace of change that I hadn't seen before, which really reset my expectations regarding how fast things can move. And I think that made the transition into the leadership roles in Sam's Club when I came back from Asia much much easier for me personally, just because of the breadth of the assignment. So what I've always tried to tell people in their career, those expat assignments in some cases, it may feel like a smaller role because perhaps you have less people or the dollar revenue or smaller, but the breadth of experience you get you just never get in something as large as Walmart U.S. until you're at the very top so you know what a way to expand your horizons and go see the world?

Matt Waller  4:45  
Well, you know, you you mentioned something that really caught my attention that and I know this about you in many different ways, but you like doing hard things-

John Furner  4:57  
I do.

Matt Waller  4:59  
And I know I've seen you, you've, you've been that way, not only in your work, but even in some of your hobbies, I'm aware of some of the things you've done. But, you know, I think this idea of doing hard things is something students need to hear. It is good to do to take on things that stretch you, could be a course that's more difficult. While you're a student, it could be a leadership position that you don't think you can do. There's just so many things that can I've even heard students say they were a camp counselor at a camp for a summer for several summers. And it was a real stretching experience, you know, leading a bunch of young people and in hot weather and being hungry, a lot, and not having very good food or good sleeping conditions, those kinds of things. 

John Furner  5:58  
Yeah, I, I really, Matt, just look for people that it take on things that they didn't have to. And some, in some ways, maybe they're hard, maybe they came easy to them. But you know, people that learn another language or study abroad, or, you know, like you just said, spend three months of your life basically giving back to others. They're just signs that that people are curious, and they're willing to work through obstacles. And they're, you know, you put a combination together really working on behalf of others. One of the key principles that we talked about here at Walmart a lot is servant leadership. And with teams the size of of all of our teams, if you're here for them, and you're here to serve, then you'll love it, if you're not here for them, and you're here for yourself, I think you'll find it to be very difficult and it was it was when I was living in Asia in that experience, when I had is the first time in my career that I had a start date and an end date on a job. And so it was an easy way to know, been- and understand this is not about me, this is about doing something in a limited amount of time that's going to make a difference for the long term. And just was a great way to figure out this organization, it needs us to do the things that we can we can do to help it. And it will, it will always it will always move on ahead.

Matt Waller  7:14  
So doing hard things, being other focused. Being other focused is powerful. There's no question about it, when, when you're other focused, you can empathize better with other people understand how they're feeling, feel it with them even. And it helps you gain alignment with people. You know, one of the most important functions of a leader is gaining the alignment of other people. And especially when you're trying to drive change. And if you're not other focused, I think it's very difficult to drive change, people don't even you can tell when someone isn't other focused. And they're if they're not other focused, it's hard to trust them.

John Furner  8:04  
Yeah it is, and one of the things that we talk about occasionally but I heard a while back is that innovation happens at the speed of trust. And without trust, you can't innovate, you can't really do much other than maintain where things are. And so in a time of change, which this is definitely in retail a time of change, at least at a pace I've never seen before. This kind of change has to be led in many ways from the top down. But if the top down leadership team is not aligned, it it just won't happen. They're just too much second guessing another thing, we run the organization from the bottom up, and then we have to change it from the side and the top down. But we think of ourselves as leaders as part of an inverted pyramid with me at the bottom and the customers on the top. And just below the top are all the frontline associates. And then you work your way back across the organization with with me and my team on the bottom.

Matt Waller  8:59  
You mentioned that you can't, you know, remember a time where changes occurred so quickly. And that's absolutely true. We see this in medical discoveries, we see it in technological breakthroughs. We see it in even innovations around funding, business processes. There's just so much going on right now in the world. And when you think about taking care of consumers, and of course Walmart's mantra, save money, live better. That there's all kinds of technologies being developed to help companies figure out how to save money more efficiently, and, and save time and so forth. But there's also and I know Walmart's experimenting with all kinds of things like drone delivery and- I mean just experiment you're doing it, a friend of mine in Bentonville for my birthday, ordered something using the drone delivery, and he videoed it and put it on LinkedIn. And I thought, wow, this is so crazy that this is really happening today. But I remember, zipline is another one that's so it's such an interesting technology. And I know those are sort of on the fringes. But even inside the four walls of a distribution center, there's innovations in terms of picking innovation and put away innovation, etc, etc. What, what should people you know, so John, for people graduating from whatever university, it may be whatever major it may be, and they want to work for Walmart? How should they be preparing themselves to deal with all of this change? 

John Furner  11:03  
Well, a lot of what you learned in in school and college is you learned to be a lifelong learner. And go back to the points you made earlier about people that find things to do that they didn't have to do. So you have a curriculum, you have to take certain number of hours to get, you know, x degree y degree. But it's really about learning to be a lifelong learner and, and some of the exciting challenges that come along with that is, is you never stop adapting and growing. The world is going to move on with or without us at its pace. So you have to stay at least at its pace or ahead of it. And then the third thing to think about is be willing to disrupt the thing that you already did. So I'll give you a couple examples. If, if you're looking at a supercenter today, I remember when we were trying to figure out how to make the front end of the super center work back in the 90s. And I was a part of the program and remember the way that we put the entire system together, and Matt we probably changed that 10 times since then. So it worked. But just because it works today doesn't mean that you can't change it and you shouldn't change it. So the question is, will you be willing to disrupt yourself and if you don't disrupt yourself, then another competitor or another company, someone's going to disrupt us, it's the way capitals managed, the way that investments are made, that we're we're in a constant state of disruption, the speed of those keep coming faster and faster. The interesting thing about our industry is for years, retailers had to pick two of the three following things either quality, low prices, or high service. And the innovations that you just mentioned, a few of those are actually enabling high quality, low price and high service because of the scale and speed of technology. So some of the paradigms we've operated under for years and years and years, almost have to be rethought because of the speed of computation. You know, I never thought growing up as a kid in wherever I was in Fort Smith, Arkansas, or Russellville that I could I could push a button on a device in my hand and 15 minutes later, something would fly over my head and drop it out of the sky. But that's happening. It's not just an experiment.

Matt Waller  13:08  
So, so John, you know, these changes are occurring, and how for you use the example of how the front end of a supercenter operates, and how you've pivoted many times over the years, that's really an entrepreneurial mindset, you know, having an entrepreneurial mindset within the fortune one company, which I believe just in terms of my personal observations of Walmart over the years that I think it is one of the strengths of Walmart, the ability ability to make big changes relatively quickly. I mean, it's not easy. And it's it but if to your point earlier, if you don't do that, someone else will I remember a long time ago, I think it was before I moved here in 94, I read a book called by Jack Welch called Create Your Destiny or Someone Else Will.

John Furner  14:07  

Matt Waller  14:09  
And sometimes you may create a piece of the destiny for your company doesn't work. So you need to shut it down. And sometimes that's hard. Other times you've already created something, but it needs to pivot. And that can be hard too because people don't like change. How as the leader, John, do you get people to understand the need to change?

John Furner  14:35  
Well, understanding it, or at least aligning that we need to understand it isn't necessarily the hardest part. But actually gaining the alignment to where it's going to change is the hard part. And what happens is people have a view of of the world from the desks they sit behind or the the role they're in and what can be distracting or sometimes even causing causing great changes to stop is someone's looking at some kind of information that may have a negative impact they're responsible for. But they're one part of a really long chain. So they're a link. So you know from where like where you sit in the business college, you can see the entire thing and see how it operates, I can, I can somewhat do that here along with my team. But some very smart energetic person sees a number that looks like it, it may be negative, and so it stops the entire thing from going through to the organization. And you can easily get to the point of sub optimization. So the important thing is, is to do experiment, it's easy now with technology to have beta test going on with I think our team in e Commerce has done something like 1200 beta tests so far this year, certainly, we have not rolled out 1200 things. Therefore a lot of them didn't work. But the ones that do work, they really changed the game because of the scale. And as you as you decide that you want to try to innovate, you have to be willing to experiment have to be willing to fail. But during the experiment phase, you have to make sure you have a really broad set of data. We were talking just before we started about behavioral economics, now having a view of what the positives and the negatives, and when you add them all together, does the data tell you if it's going to be successful or not. And at that point, it's time to go. But you still have the opportunity with someone in the organization may be shaking their head, yes, they've got it. But in their heart, they're thinking this is a bad idea. And then can push back on things and slow it down. So we pick a few. And the short answer is we pick a few innovations that look really promising from the experiments. And then every month we're back together, going through that same list again, to get progress updates on not only is it is the change being implemented, but what have we learned along the way. And the lesson is important. And if you if you have one, and it doesn't work, the decision to let it go and stop, it may be the most important thing, don't don't push something through and just go no matter what because it was your idea.

Matt Waller  17:04  
Let that allows us I think right now to transition to strategy a bit- And I was so thrilled when I found out that you hired John List, as chief economist of Walmart, I remember seriously over the years, when especially when I was a lot earlier in my career, thinking, you know, there's so many companies out there that have people that know how to use optimization in their companies, it could be applied to all these areas, and they don't do it. You know, I've seen it in lots of companies, whether it be you know, optimizing routing for trucks, or scheduling of associates, or pricing, et cetera, et cetera. But I remember early on being involved in some projects at Walmart, where you did start applying it, one of the first ones I was involved in was with backhaul. And I was happy that you all were doing that. And you've been doing that for a long time. But I feel like from a strategic position, what you've done is taking that to the next level, you mentioned earlier, you want to make sure you have a big enough data set. And the for those of you listening that may not know, Walmart hired John List, who was a chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago and professor there. And just a brilliant economist, he wrote a great book called The voltage effect you might enjoy if you're listening, but, but at any rate, you know, the first chapter, I think it's the first or one of the first chapters of the book talks about false positives, how companies will do a little experiment, so called experiment, and then they rolled out to the whole company, and it doesn't work. And it doesn't work because either they didn't you know, they got a false positive. They didn't set up the experiment, right. And one thing that John List is an expert at is what are called field experiments where you actually make manipulations and you test them out and then you implement what works and so in some ways, hiring him is a natural extension of Walmart's culture because Walmart does have a test type of a culture, but it's making it more scientific.

John Furner  19:39  
More scientific and and more customer facing. It's easy to assume that you know, what customers or your own associates want based on experience and intuition, but the data can can tell you something else. And and what I what I mean by that is we we say the customer is number one, which we believe, but you actually don't know how customers respond to things until you put things in front of them. And that would include doing what we already did in isolation versus the test. And so this false positive thing is really interesting, because you typically do see results in an experiment or test are more positive than when they hit the operating environment of things called the Hawthorne effect in engineering where it just doesn't perform in the field the way it was did in the lab. And a second, a second point in this, I think is really interesting is you have to do the experiment. So you have to put things in front of real customers in number, you've got to be able to watch them for some time, see if you want to try this. But then Matt, if you have more than one thing going on at once, there's a layering effect, that can become a problem. And what happens is, if you have two different experiments, they both look positive, then you put them both together in front of the same customer group, that actually is going to yield a actually a third results, you had the results of the first and the second, but when you put them together, you can have something completely different. And sometimes two positives can become a negative sentiments neutral, and other times, they accelerate each other. And so we are we're pretty careful about making sure we run experiments. And then everything that we run as an experiment we think we want to do, we put it in one of two markets, where all of our technologies and innovations are to see that there is this the same sort of effect when it's layered on top of other types of change. And I've seen teams before, that try things in isolation in different parts in different geographies, or different parts of system architecture. And then when it all gets together, it doesn't work. And then it's really hard to understand what what about it doesn't work. I remember, there was a project here about 10 years ago, and it resulted in lots of layout changes and fixtures moving around. And the whole thing didn't work. But there were so many things that happened at the same time, the team had a really hard time peeling it back apart to figure out what it was. And so then the consequence of that is everything that that happened that time was considered to be a bad thing. But certainly they weren't all bad. They were just bad when you put them all together. So it's it's important to have a discipline of as you get to implement the phase of implementation one thing at a time, so you see how they layer, make sure you have enough data, and make sure you don't have another negative unintended consequences because of the number of implementations that are happening at the same time.

Matt Waller  22:28  
I think there's a lot of CEOs that don't understand those concepts. And it's wonderful that you do. And John, you have a lot of experience in merchandising, I'd like to talk a little bit about that, you know, prior to omni channel, you, you take a category if you've got a department, and you can divide up the merchandise into different categories, and then within a category, you can have all different kinds of assortment. And then you've got to optimize your space allocation, you got to take into account both what the consumer sees the shopper sees, but also holding capacity on the shelf for some items, especially items that sell really fast, maybe like say, I don't know, say cinnamon- for refrigerated cinnamon rolls on Saturday morning, and they can fly off the shelf really fast. And if you don't have enough of them out there, regardless of how many facings you want, you know you could stock out before noon. So there's a lot of variables. But then when you add on top of that now this effect of omni channel where people are ordering for pickup and for delivery, and in-home. All those create even more complexities around what should be in the store. What should be on the shelf, how much capacity you should have, how the business processes work in the store. This is a complicated puzzle.

John Furner  24:19  
It is and you can't see me but I'm smiling because I love challenges like this one. And the reason it's so interesting is omni channel gives our merchandise team the best view they've ever had regarding customer demand and customer intent. And, and what I mean by that is when I was a merchant, and my first job out of college was merchandising in dry grocery. I knew what I sold yesterday. And I roughly knew what I sold by hour. And I would use that along with market data to try to triangulate the best set of curated category management processes I could to get to an assortment that would go on a shelf. And then once that happened, then you would start looking at what happened again yesterday and trying to incrementally improve upon it. With the search bar, we now know what people were looking for. And then when they click the PDP, the product display page, you know that there was intent, at least at some level to buy it beyond just putting something in search. And, and you know, that tells you something as well, if somebody searches a term and they don't click a PDP, it tells you roughly that the search bar wasn't, search wasn't returning the right result, once you know intent, and you can quantify intent, it is really changing the way people are thinking about all those problems you just said. And one of our principles that we talked about a lot is don't ship your customer your org chart. And, of course, we use organizational structure to reinforce strategy with the reason that's the reason we have a chief economist and a chief revenue officer, you know, the positions that we wouldn't have had here even just a couple years ago, those are important because they they support and strengthen our ability to execute the strategy. But then when you get a level below that, it's it's understanding that this complexity that we have, should never make its way in front of a customer or, or an associate. And of course it does at times and when we figure that out, then it's our job to try to pull it back. But even our associates, their consumers of the products we build, so the device that we've issued them, they've got a handheld device that runs on Android, and it has an app and called me at Walmart and we we have something like 15 million questions asked into it every week that tell us what what's on people's mind, what they're worried about, what they're trying to fix and what they need. But the data that goes into that is it's important because they are consumers of our products as well, not just the physical products that customers are, but they are consumers of the virtual product. So we have an always listening, we're always on in terms of listening to the data to the questions, what people are saying, because we want this these products to be so intuitive that when people walk in, they can jump on login and go without without much training. So it's a couple of things there is just make sure that the structure reflects the strategy, of course, you have to have the right people in those. But we don't want to ship our complexity all the way to the customer. So you have to make it complex to be able to serve customers the way they want to be served with flexibility. But it's got to feel like one brand from the time they opened the app all the way until the delivery happens.

Matt Waller  27:25  
You know, there's there's been articles out there, data showing that Walmart has had a huge impact on the efficiency of our economy, in the sense that, you know, Walmart tries very hard to keep prices down, costs down. So that prices can be down. They've done that in a lot of ways over the years. Probably the biggest in logistics and supply chain management, and, and operations and, and other things. But you know, and I think that, you know, in the future, it makes it, it gives you a competitive advantage to be able to keep costs down. It did in the past, well, in future. People, a lot of times lose sight of that, but in the in the real world. And we're seeing it now in particular with inflation, cost matters. 

John Furner  28:22  
Sure does.

Matt Waller  28:24  
And, you know, sometimes you hear people talking like it isn't as big of a deal, but it's it when when people are living month to month, it costs matter to them a lot. And Walmart's done everything they can but they've also and then Walmart's also promoted efficient business processes upstream that cause suppliers to want to become more efficient as well. What are some big opportunities you see on the horizon for efficiencies, and everything from store processes to logistics and supply chain?

John Furner  29:11  
Well, some of the biggest are using technology to accurately know what you own and where it is. And that would include things like blockchain upstream at the top of the supply chain. And but then as inventory enters into the distribution centers, you know, so much of the process is becoming automated that if if the case isn't right or the labeling isn't right, and that you start with the first we call them defects, that would be the first level of a defect is when you don't know what's coming into one of the centers. Now ultimately, we have a we have the opportunity to be able to deliver palletized inventory to all of our associates that spy aisle inside the store. And same in the fulfillment centers, using a lot of great technology but if the UPC code or the label on the outside of the box is torn or not legible or the the core gets bad, then you've already started the problem. And in that problem, those problems, then compound themselves through the chain all the way until they get to the very end of the supply chain. And for us, the way our chief operating officer works is, is his responsibility starts from the time we pick up a container in another country, some port of origin somewhere else, all the way to in home and the last mile the last foot to the refrigerator. And we structured it that way on, you know, intentionally so that the person who starts at the end is the receiver of the process all the way end to end. And so working defects out early in the chain helped because they multiply on the way through all the way to the 5000 locations, and the teams that then consume what what came through. And probably then the second in terms of just efficiency is is giving people the digital tools in their hand with them so that they don't spend all their time running around these giant buildings, we have buildings as large as 3 million square feet. And we have some convenience stores that are, you know, four or 5000 square feet, but But either way, the most inefficient that you can think you can have your whole workforce doing is walking around all day trying to get something to finish a task. So the idea of the devices and the technology is so that when you come in, you clock in on your device, you get started, and then your workflow is all right in front of you. So we've made some progress got a lot more to do. Every week, we we go back through what people are saying what they don't like what didn't work, what, where we had problems with latency on apps. But the the idea of spending your whole day walking around trying to find what you need to do your job is pretty frustrating. So the more we can move to the device, the better off we all are.

Matt Waller  31:50  
John, you mentioned one of the first things was this idea of looking at the process from beginning to end. And that requires a lot of cross functional thinking. It's not always easy to implement. And I remember back in the mid 90s, when Lee Scott was the EVP of logistics, he hired this, a guy named Robert Bruce to be I think it was the first VP of supply chain management in the country. But he titled the guy VP of supply chain management. Do you know who I'm talking about? 

John Furner  32:30  
I remember the name. Yeah. 

Matt Waller  32:31  
Yeah. And I was actually involved in a project with them and Procter and Gamble's involved too at the time, but it was to this point, you know, right, that there's all these things that compound when you go through the process, and in, but they cross so many different functional areas, it's hard to really get them to coordinate and to identify problems and then solve them and account for them. Really, you know, like this process works maybe really well here. But the big process doesn't work very well on and the metrics don't support the end to end process. This is another very complicated like we were talking about earlier with merchandising, the complexity of that now, this is also a huge challenge. It sounds like you're really addressing it end to end right now through your chief operating officer position.

John Furner  33:29  
Yeah, that's the idea. And you said something really important there Matt at there's a saying and business that I've heard a few times that it's something like, show me the incentives, and I'll tell you the behavior. So stepping back and deciding what you want the customer experience to be like, if if the organization, if their incentives and their evaluations are tied to operational metrics that are not attached to that final customer experience in any way than what you said happens all the time, then you have a very efficient running part of the business that then hands off something to the next group. It may be completely wrong. But but but we think we're really happy with first step. And a couple of things I tried to keep in mind, the team and I've tried to keep in mind is if you don't know where you're going well, then any road will work. So you have to determine where we're going so that we stay on course. Because these long, you know, these long trips can really get you in the wrong place by the very end of it. And then it lands on the last person, which is typically the person that's closest to the customer who's trying to sort out the complexity that's that's come to them through the back door or through some sort of delivery method that creates a bit of strain for them.

Matt Waller  34:40  
John, you know, living in Northwest Arkansas, I naturally talked to lots of suppliers and have for almost 30 years now. And it's an amazing community we have but I wanted to just mention a couple of criticisms that I hear about Walmart. And I know that you were good at taking criticism, otherwise, I wouldn't share it with you. But I'd love to hear your response. One criticism of there's two that I'll mention. One is that the suppliers think they must not know what their strategy is. That's one and two, sometimes they'll say Walmart's too risk averse. They're not willing to try some of these new things, or whatever the case may be. I'd love to hear your reaction to that.

John Furner  35:37  
Well, the first let's take strategy first, I think we've been or at least have become much more consistent the last year or two talking about the Walmart flywheel, how it works for customers. And I think depending on the way you're looking at it, it can be really clear, or it can be unclear simply because there is a lot to it. And so you know, taking the time to see how stores and Omni commerce, e commerce all work together. The healthcare business we have is is complex. And it takes some time to understand the investments and fintech also, you know, these are new things that people are probably looking at saying, how's this fit in context, but when you think about it this way, think about the life of a Walmart customer who's buying food, they're buying inventory for things like going back to school, seasonal events and holidays, they have to pay on every transaction, therefore, the payment makes sense. We already have a health care business. And we can do more to help people's health, all that generates a lot of data on the platform. And then the platform is the reason we can have an advertising business. And it is the reason that we can have a membership business and data business. So those help suppliers, sellers on the marketplace and customers connect in ways that are fast and efficient. And then I think the second point is just for all of us to stay focused on the mid and the long term, we will make choices along the way. But if our you know, if we were forced to make a choice between the top line and the bottom line, we'll we'll pick the top line, if it's if it's going to be a choice that we have to make if it's the long term or the short term, we'll pick the longer term. And so some of the decisions we make at times you might think well, that's, that's interesting, I'm not sure how they did that. But it's some of the decisions, of course, are for the long and the midterm because we have a business that we want to have in great shape and 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now. And as you know, retailers have have a tendency to come and go each decade, the top 10 move around pretty frequently. And this is a 60 year old business and we want to make sure that it's really healthy in 40 more years at 100 years old. Then the second is, you know, the risk is always a balance between what's right for associates, what's right for customers, what's right for shareholders, and go back to the longer term objective here. So the the risks and the investments in things like supply chain and innovation, commerce in general. Those are big enablers of where the customer was, was going. So you know, think about the company all the way back to the beginning. There were discount stores and then there was a food chain, there was a arts and crafts chain that that is no longer in existence, there were some hardware stores. There were changes there. Then the the Supercenters obviously work there's the Neighborhood Market format, international ecommerce. Now we're in we're running a big retail platform that has stores, ecommerce, fintech, health and wellness, advertising, a data business, and and all tied together with a membership proposition. And as you said earlier, all to keep costs low so that we can we can keep changing. So I think if it feels that way, I would say take a step back and look at where we are today versus a year ago and two and even three years ago, and then think about the things that are coming and and I'm I'm quite quite positive that we'll take the right amount of risk on we won't risk, you know, things that would would hurt the company or the shareholder. But certainly we will take on the risk we need to to ensure that the business is in great shape for the long run.

Matt Waller  39:24  
John, thank you so much for taking time to visit with me this morning about this. It's really been a great learning experience. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

John Furner  39:37  
You bet, thanks, Matt. Thanks for having me.

Matt Waller  39:40  
On behalf of the Sam M Walton College of Business, I want to thank everyone for spending time with us for another engaging conversation. You can subscribe by going to your favorite podcast service and searching be epic. B E E P I C.

Matt WallerMatthew A. Waller is the dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair and professor of supply chain management. He is also the host for the Be EPIC Podcast for Walton College.


Walton College's EPIC values -- Excellence, Professionalism, Innovation and Collegiality -- are the heart of Dean Waller’s podcast. Since the beginning of the series, Waller has interviewed business professionals, industry experts, CEOs and Walton College students to bring listeners first-hand accounts directly from the entrepreneurial world.


Waller is an SEC Academic Leadership Fellow and coauthor of “The Definitive Guide to Inventory Management: Principles and Strategies for the Efficient Flow of Inventory across the Supply Chain,” published by Pearson Education. He is the former co-editor-in-chief of Journal of Business Logistics. His opinion pieces have appeared in Wall Street Journal Asia and Financial Times.


Waller received an M.S. and Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University and a B.S.B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Missouri.

Walton College

Walton College of Business

Since its founding at the University of Arkansas in 1926, the Sam M. Walton College of Business has grown to become the state's premier college of business – as well as a nationally competitive business school. Learn more...

Be Epic Podcast

We're sitting down with innovators and business mavericks to discuss strategy, leadership and entrepreneurship. The Be EPIC Podcast is hosted by Matthew Waller, dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. Learn more...

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