Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Walmart Rescued Flint Michigan…No One Noticed

When business fails, it is scandalized. When it rescues, the quiet is deafening. Part of the answer is business needs to tell a better story.

We often find heroes in places that begin with the letter “C”: the classroom, the combat zone and the command center. As drones do most of the combat fighting, we find analogs to the battlefield in football and basketball. Similarly, the command center has shifted from four-star generals to the men and women who run businesses. But very few of them are thought of as heroes.

This explains why the heroic rescue of Flint, Michigan, by the business community vanished as quickly as Flint’s murky water down the tap.

The backstory is that Flint, Michigan, is one of many forgotten places on the American landscape whose demographics are labor union controlled, with a large minority community (53 percent are African American) that is poor and undereducated and where nearly 10 percent are children under the age of five. The media doesn’t write about these places, preferring to refer to them as “flyover” country suitable for SNL routines. Until something terrible happens, as it did in 2014.

Then-Michigan Governor Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager to oversee spending after the local officials botched things up. By April, the manager found a way to save money by switching the city’s water to the Flint River from Detroit’s Lake Huron

Detroit’s Lake Huron. Most people were led to believe the water quality was the problem. The actual problem was that Detroit had added filtration and an anti-corrosive agent: Flint had not. Without it, the Flint water was so corrosive that GM complained it was “rusting its parts.”

The problem with contaminated water in the case of young children is that it enters a child’s nervous system where it can cause lifelong neurological diseases that lead to hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder, learning and memory difficulties.

Given the politics, the argument lasted a year before a solution was found (to reconnect to Detroit water). In the interim, the burning question was what were the children supposed to drink?

By 2015, during the period in which Flint water was toxic, Walmart rallied its forces and “donated 14 trucks of water— or 504,000 bottles—and 1,792 water filters,” said Beth Harris, store manager at Walmart, “The water crisis is personal to us here in Flint. Those affected include our own associates, customers and their families.”

Walmart was not the only member of the business community to come to the aid of Flint’s suffering population. Coca-Cola donated nearly 80,000 bottles of Dasani, Nestlé sent five truckloads of water—or more than 190,000 bottles—and PepsiCo donated almost 95,000 bottles of water.

With the help of these businesses, Flint Michigan, children were drinking clean water: “We are grateful for Walmart and their suppliers’ support during this crisis,” said Bilal Tawwab, former superintendent of Flint Community Schools. “With their generous support, District students will have access to clean drinking water.”

It is neither the first nor the last time Walmart has come to the rescue of a community: “Over the past 10 years, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have provided more than $50 million in response to events such as typhoons in Mexico and the Philippines, tsunamis in Asia, floods in the UK and Canada, tornadoes in the U.S., Africa’s Ebola epidemic and many other tragedies.”

When business fails, it is scandalized. When it rescues, the quiet is deafening. Part of the answer is business needs to tell a better story. If you have just saved a city from a health epidemic, as Walmart did, you owe it to your company and your teams to find a way to make the story go “mega-viral.”

Note to self: Next time, invite Beyoncé and Bono to a “Flint Water Aid Concert” produced by Walmart. Then make the politicians, the media and the bureaucrats who shared responsibility buy a bottle of contaminated Flint water as a souvenir. Cheers.

Read more: The Media, Greedy Lawyers And A Lesson In Brand Assassination


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.