This was the year the empire struck back. It's no easy task putting a human face on the world's biggest company and its 1.4 million employees, but that was the goal when Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott, 56, set off on a charm offensive to make the case that the discount giant is a force for good. Tired of being nibbled to death by guppies, as he put it, Scott took out ads in 100 newspapers and made his case.
For everyone poised to blame him for outsourcing, wage depression, traffic jams and the ruin of small-town America, he has an argument that takes credit for gains in U.S. productivity and living standards and low inflationnot least because people can live better if they are spending less for sneakers and T shirts and Cocoa Puffs. In the face of charges of sex discrimination and unfair labor practices, Scott argued that his full-time "associates" earn well over the minimum wage (though typically not enough to lift a family of four above the poverty line) and have 401(k)s and that even part-timers get health benefits (though they are not eligible until they work for two years).
It has not been a perfect year: Scott triedand for the time being has failedto infiltrate big cities, attempting to build stores near Los Angeles and Washington. But Wal-Mart has more than 5,200 outlets, with $285 billion in sales last year. That means Scott's decisions touch more and more of what we see, hear, wear and eat, as well as what we pay for all of it.
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