“Made in America” an auto-biography of “Sam Walton”, the founder of Wal-Mart the largest retail chain in the world, is more a story about Wal-Mart rather than a story about Sam Walton. The autobiography is an inspiring and action-packed composition, and reflects the dynamic personality of Walton and his success in creating Wal-Mart. Sam in the book over 18 chapters meticulously sketches his formative period, his family circumstances and the various stages involved in creating Wal-Mart. Apart from the business, he also spares a chapter to “Raising Family” which indicates the importance Sam attaches with family values and ethics.
Full of anecdotes the auto-biography can be of great inspiration and learning for wanna-be entrepreneurs and business leaders. Sam in his book addresses management and entrepreneurship issues like team formation, taking a company public, culture creation in a company, building partnership and meeting competition. Each such issue has been spared a chapter and has been dwelt mostly using incidents during his life time. The book is a story about believing in your idea even when others may not, and about sticking to your guns.
The book gives an insight of retail industry in America and its formation over a period of time. Transformation of a nascent retail industry into a full-fledged mature industry has been well depicted chronologically in the book and the corresponding dynamic environment variables also find their mention in the chapters. Adoption of various bohemian strategies to expand market share can form good learning for future business leaders. The first chapter devoted to value of dollar indicates the high amount of respect Sam carries for money which is even reflected in the way of his doing business.
Summary and Insights
Sam Walton was declared the richest man in the universe by the Forbes Magazine in the October 1985 however the book projects Sam as a humble, modest and highly competitive man. Right from the childhood he has a highly competitive attitude and a team worker with good motivational skills. His ability to view challenges as opportunities helps him to prove his small town strategy which was institutional behind the Wal-Mart.
He is a business leader who is made out of crisis and hence is able to easily drive the company in times of very high competition and adversity. Being highly observant of the dynamic trends of the industry, strategies of his competitors and understanding consumer needs helped him develop Wal-Mart into the giant it is now. Being a motivator and a very good team player helped him immensely as an entrepreneur in formulating his team in initial stages of creation of Wal-Mart.
Though Sam appears to be very conservative in his nature, he is very different in business. Once can rather term him as a disruptive businessman. Looking for innovative strategies and adopting before the cult measures in order to maintain the competitive edge of the business in a competition intensive environment is a great learning for all the wanna-be business leaders and entrepreneurs. Audacity of adopting unconventional measures like discounting stores in the era of variety stores is an indication of a leader with courage to confront conventional wisdom with contemporary thinking. Use of airplanes to scout location for retail stores was one of such an unconventional idea mentioned in the book.
Sam held to family, social and ethical values very closely. Hence, he always intended to keep Wal-Mart as a family held enterprise. Giving back to the community was one of the philosophies Sam Walton adhered by strongly. Sam also gives huge emphasis on the need to build partnership with the employees of the organization in order to create higher belongingness among the associates (employees were referred to as associates in Wal-Mart) for the organisation. Sam introduced various HR concepts prevalent today, in Wal-Mart in 1980s like open-door policy, profit sharing policies for low level workers etc.
Sam was a great motivator since his childhood. During his stint in Wal-Mart, he encouraged store managers in Wal-Mart to adopt various innovative strategies to improve upon the sales of the store. He delegated much responsibilities and freedom to the store managers which helped them to manage and improve upon the sales figures.
Learning for Entrepreneurs
- Leadership in Crisis – Sam Walton came from a very modest background. He had to work hard for his living during his college days. He waited tables, delivered newspapers and worked as a life guard. These forming events of his life made him a leader made out of crisis. Sam viewed challenges and adversities as opportunities. This attitude of Sam helped him convert many lost battles into winning streaks. In his early days in retail, he was forced to evict the well doing Ben Franklin stores which he turned from a mal-functional condition to a well doing one after a hard work of 5 years. However, even this did not make him loose the zeal.
- Leadership with Courage – Sam Walton had the courage to defy the conventional retailing model and adopt discount retailing model which was not much prevalent during those days. Courage to adopt innovative and modern strategies before they become common in the market is one of the very important tactics required to keep ahead of the competitors in business. An entrepreneur during his life term will face the S-Curve dilemma where in he/she is faced with the dilemma of employing a more recent technology or strategy which might or might not turn out to be fruitful. Hence, a successful entrepreneur needs to be prudent and courageous to evaluate the options and to even opt a riskier option if required.
- Entrepreneur needs to be a good motivator and competitive – Sam Walton as mentioned before in this review was a good competitor which he derived from his mom. He in his book even boasts of himself to be never a part of a losing football team. He consistently in his book talks of good entrepreneurs to be good motivators. Motivation helps an entrepreneur in team formation, culture building and various other stages of business. Competitive attitude of the entrepreneur helps a business to continuously benchmark itself against better competitors and better milestones.
- Highly Observant – To be highly competitive in business arena, an entrepreneur needs to be highly observant in nature. He needs to observe the ever changing business dynamics, competitors’ strategies, internal customer satisfaction levels and various such business affecting parameters. Sam Walton being highly observant in nature was able to observe and adopt some of unique measures to improve the business like land scouting using airplanes, discounting concepts etc.
- Understanding Employees – Understanding internal customer satisfaction i.e. employee satisfaction is as vital as understanding the external customer satisfaction. Employee satisfaction is an important aspect of team building and culture building in the organisation. Hence, an entrepreneur is expected to be good at understanding employee satisfaction levels and taking measures to improve. Sam Walton mentions various measures taken by him to improve upon the employee satisfaction level in the company like open door policy, WeCare program, Profit sharing with lower level workers etc. Sam also gives huge emphasis on team building and culture building measures in an organisation.
The autobiography is an excellent composition of anecdotes from the real life of Sam Walton, testimonials about Sam and business cum life lessons which most of the serious readers would find intriguing. The lifestyle of Sam seems to be of a common man and even Sam concedes to it; however the working mode of Sam sketches him to be a very disruptive businessman. The book is very well structured and is able to bring out the story of an American folk hero cut from America’s heartland: Sam Walton in a candid, straight-from-the shoulder style.