by Stephen Garner

Wal-MartIn remarks today at the annual Associate and Shareholders’ Meeting, Walmart president and CEO Doug McMillon said strategic decisions are positioning the company “for success in the future,” even while delivering results and supporting communities now across the globe. McMillon signaled the company’s transformation is about building new capabilities to meet changing customer expectations and equipping associates with tools and training to succeed in the evolving workplace and, increasingly, in life.

“The common thread in this story is that we’re positioning ourselves for sustained growth, while at the same time we’re finding new ways to serve customers today,” McMillon said.

The Friday speech capped a week-long series of events for associates and shareholders in Northwest Arkansas, tied to the company’s 48th Annual Shareholders’ Meeting. McMillon highlighted continuing changes in the company, from enhanced associate educational opportunities to the investment in India’s Flipkart Group to tech-powered last-mile grocery delivery.

“Meaningful change is rarely easy but it’s essential to set us up for success in the future,” McMillon told shareholders and associates from around the world in Bud Walton Arena at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

While looking to the future, McMillon said Walmart will remain true to the “values and culture” Sam Walton put in place. A top priority, as always, remains serving customers. “Our customers are the boss,” he said. Since its founding nearly 56 years ago, the company has grown far beyond Northwest Arkansas. Walmart now serves nearly 270 million customers a week in 28 countries and generated $500.3 billion in revenue last year, representing growth of more than $15 billion. “So, we are a growth company, we just happen to be a big one,” he said, adding later: “The fundamentals of our business, thanks to you, are strong.”

McMillon said he was proud of Walmart’s new associate education benefit, which is designed to remove barriers to college enrollment and graduation. Under the program, which is being done in partnership with Guild Education, a leading education benefits platform, Walmart will subsidize the cost of two- and four-year degrees in Business and Supply Chain Management for all U.S. Walmart and Sam’s Club associates, beyond financial aid and an associate contribution equivalent to $1 a day. Degrees will be offered through the University of Florida, Brandman University and Bellevue University – schools selected for their focus on serving working adult learners. Additionally, associates can earn college credit for both paid training at Walmart Academies and skills developed through day-to-day work.

The program is part of a suite of recent enhancements in technology and training aimed at equipping associates to better meet customer expectations, while adapting to the rapidly evolving workplace.

“From apps on our mobile devices to automation in the back room, we’ll keep innovating to help you spend more time with customers and members,” McMillon told associates, adding that technology is helping to create new jobs, such as personal shoppers for grocery pickup and delivery and Training Academy facilitators, while also helping to accelerate training. “We are developing new knowledge and new training. We are becoming lifelong learners.”

McMillon also spoke about the company’s role in society, saying Walmart is “using the strengths of our business to create shared value for our communities.” That can come in a lot of different forms, he said, from supporting communities impacted by natural disasters to sustainably sourcing commodities, such as bananas, to deploying renewable energy around the globe.

“This past year we were reminded just how important our role can be,” he said, adding a bit later: “The people we serve in communities not only trust us to be there for them when disaster strikes. They also want to feel good about our social and environmental impact and trust that the products we sell are good for their kids and the planet.”