Monday, Apr. 26, 2004

Lee Scott

The man who runs Wal-Mart is fond of saying that no one can run the world's largest company, you have to lead it. To CEO H. Lee Scott Jr. , 55, that means being a combination talk-show host and taskmaster. Business meetings take place in an auditorium where praise and criticism are meted out with wit and a steely determination to get things right. Like his predecessor, David Glass, Scott is a self-effacing man with a ready supply of pungent remarks. He has been on the receiving end too, as Wal-Mart's critics harp about its low-wage jobs and sprawling stores. Scott has no apologies in stock for most of them. When the company does dumb things, it deserves the knocks, he says. But with 100 million patrons a week voting their opinion through their purchases, "we have to focus on the customer who does believe in us."

Scott may be the last Wal-Mart CEO schooled by Sam Walton, the discount Dalai Lama, so it's important that the effervescent, customer-focused culture that "Mr. Sam" created be preserved and communicated as the company expands across China and other global markets. That means empowering employees wherever they are, says Scott: "We cannot grow if we are not a great place to work."

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