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The annual shareholders meeting Walmart Inc. of Bentonville throws is historically a party with celebrities and top musical acts performing at Bud Walton Arena on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville.
This year, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the retailer held a business-only virtual gathering instead of whiz-bang 50th shareholders meeting. Officials with the company, including Board Chairman Greg Penner and CEO Doug McMillon, addressed the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which has resulted in protests nationwide over police brutality against blacks.
There was a large protest Monday on the Bentonville Square, where the Walmart Museum is located. Penner said the virtual meeting wasn’t what Walmart had planned and regretted that it was being held under the “shadow cast by the violence of racism.”
“The killing of George Floyd is tragic, painful and unacceptable,” McMillon said in a prepared opening statement. “It is important that we all understand that our problems as a nation run much deeper than one horrible event. The pain we are feeling reminds us of the need to support each other and come together. Until we as a nation confront and address these hard realities, we will never achieve the best of what we can be.”
McMillon said Walmart stores “in a minority of locations” have sustained damages and inventory losses during the protests. He said protecting the company’s employees and customers is a high priority.
The business portion of the virtual meeting went as expected. The slate of 11 directors was re-elected with at least 96.5% of the vote, and shareholders approved several company-submitted proposals related to executive compensation and the appointment of Ernst & Young as independent accountant.
The shareholders voted down four shareholder proposals, which sought:
- A report on the impact of single-use plastic shopping bags, which received just 17% votes for approval.
- A report on the impact of antibiotics use in food (3.8%).
- A resolution to allow an hourly associate to be considered for a board position (1.9%).
- A report on strengthening the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace (13.2%).
McMillon used his opening statement to praise the work and dedication of Walmart’s employees, who have kept the company’s stores open and running during the pandemic. McMillon said Walmart has provided extra pay and bonuses for store employees and instituted a leave of absence policy for employees who feel uncomfortable working.
Walmart has provided more than 110 million masks for its employees, McMillon said.
He said he was “happy to report” that more than 270,000 employees have taken leaves. Walmart has hired more than 300,000 employees, mostly temporarily, to “fill the gaps,” McMillon said.
Walmart has donated more than $35 million to pandemic relief organizations and has worked with its apparel suppliers to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers. Additionally, McMillon said Walmart has opened 187 COVID-19 testing centers at store locations.
“They were challenging to open in the beginning for a number of reasons, including the lack of PPE,” McMillon said.
The alternating demand on retailers because of pandemic has reaffirmed the company’s belief in its omnichannel business model, McMillon said.
Walmart’s grocery pickup and delivery service has become more popular as more customers shop from home. McMillon said Walmart has instituted an Express Delivery service in 1,000 stores where customers can order and receive their groceries within two hours.
“It has been really successful and we are scaling it further,” McMillon said of the delivery service. “I think it is here to stay. When customers use pickup and delivery, they shop with us more often. This omnichannel approach … is a winning strategy.”
McMillon said Walmart has worked hard to restock in-store items since early, runaway demand sapped inventory, with toilet paper being a notable example.
“Our supply chain is among the most capable in the world but in this environment we have stretched it,” McMillon said.
He said the pandemic caused three distinct shopping cycles: first was for groceries and staples, the second was for home improvement, do-it-yourself items and the third has been for home entertainment purchases spurred by stimulus checks from the federal government.
“I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years and I have never seen anything like the pressure our supply chain has been on,” McMillon said. “I haven’t seen puzzles sell in a long time like we have sold them recently.”