The ascension of Walmart CEO Doug McMillon to the chairmanship of the Business Roundtable, beginning January 1 and announced this week, comes at an especially interesting time both for the corporate lobbying group and for the world’s largest retailer.
McMillon has become an increasing proponent of a new view and broader purview for American CEOs as head of Walmart, at the same time that Business Roundtable has caught a lot of attention for its recent declaration that U.S. corporations should meet the needs and interests of an ecosystem of constituencies – including employees, customers and communities – and not just its own shareholders.
“In the coming months, there will be extensive conversations about America’s future and the role business plays in shaping it,” McMillon said in a statement by Business Roundtable announcing that he would begin a two-year term on January 1, succeeding JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who is finishing an extended three-year term as the group’s chairman.
McMillon continued, “As chairman I commit to keeping the Business Roundtable CEOs at the forefront of constructive public-policy debates as we pursue an agenda of greater growth and opportunity for all Americans.”
As Walmart chief, McMillon has emerged lately as a much greater champion of a more holistic role for his own leadership than at any earlier time in his tenure, which began in 2014.
Earlier this month, McMillon announced that his company, one of America’s biggest gun sellers, would stop ammunition sales for assault-style rifles and handguns after two deadly shootings at its stores in August. The move presumably disquieted many Walmart customers, employees and shareholders, but McMillon said that the company was “trying to take constructive steps to reduce the risk that events like these will happen again. The status quo is unacceptable.”
McMillon’s declaration on guns followed several years during which he has relentlessly addressed old reputational bugaboos that had made Walmart a continual target of progressives, including causing the demise of many local small merchants, once-weak record on environmental issues, stubbornly low wages and allegations of discrimination against women.
McMillon dramatically raised wages a couple of years ago and made work schedules more predictable for employees, among other worker-friendly changes. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a group of Walmart workers that had pursued a class-action suit against the company over gender discrimination had too little in common to form a single class of plaintiffs.
Some aspects of Walmart’s much-critiqued legacy continue to bite McMillon; this week, in fact, The Wall Street Journal reported on documents of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which asserted that Walmart likely discriminated against 178 female workers by paying less or denying promotions because of their gender.
But more often than not these days, the company is getting attention for a multi-year string of growth results over which McMillon is presiding — taking market share from struggling retailers, expanding online sales, innovating in areas including the sale of organic foods and new distribution methods, and comprising one of the only big traditional retailers that has managed to beat back some of Amazon’s gains at the expense of brick-and-mortar stores.
Soon, as chairman of the Business Roundtable, McMillon is likely to give Walmart watchers something else to talk about.