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  1. Sam Walton: Introduction
  2. Sam Walton: Early Life and Education
  3. Sam Walton: Success Story
  4. Sam Walton: Net Worth
  5. Sam Walton: Famous or Infamous
  6. Sam Walton: Most Influential Quotes

In the late 1940s, Sam Walton opened his second Ben Franklin variety store franchise. The first, in Newport, Arkansas, had been a victim of its own success. It had drawn so many customers that the landlord had drastically increased its rent, forcing Walton out.

Walton’s second store, in Bentonville, Arkansas, was in a building he owned. Furthermore, he had secured a 99-year option to lease the space next door. The Bentonville store did $72,000 in sales the year before Walton bought it. After he took over, its sales grew steadily in each of the first three years, to $105,000 in the first year, $140,000 in the second, and $175,000 in the third.

Rapid expansion

With successes running stores in Newport and now Bentonville, Walton and his brother James hopped in the car to scout for locations. James, a pilot in the war, even bought a second-hand airplane to expand their search. (See also: 7 Real-Life Ways To Become A Billionaire.)

In 1954, when Walton was 36, he expanded again, opening a store with his brother in Ruskin Heights, just outside of Kansas City, Missouri. The opening was the beginning of a nationwide strategy. To get his store managers on board with his aggressive expansion plan, Walton would often offer managers a chance to buy into the business.

By 1962, with help from his brother, father-in-law, and brother-in-law, Walton owned 16 stores in three states. Fifteen of those stores were Ben Franklin franchises. And Walton wanted to expand even faster. He saw a great opportunity in rural communities, especially in some remote places that, thanks to the baby boom, weren’t so remote anymore. Nevertheless, the management of Ben Franklin wasn’t as confident in his expansion plans.

The first Wal-Mart

So Walton struck out on his own in July of 1962, opening the first ever Wal-Mart Discount City store in the small Ozarks city of Rogers, Arkansas. As he worked on developing Wal-Mart, Walton took note of a competitor: Michigan-based chain store Meijer. Its one-stop-shopping supercenter was unique in the early 1960s. And it seemed to be a natural fit for Walton’s geographic strategy.

At the time, most American discount stores fought over the same cities. But Walton saw the real growth opportunity in small towns. Because he was selling cheaply to smaller markets, every possible expense had to be trimmed.

“You can make a lot of mistakes and still recover if you run an efficient operation. Or you can be brilliant and still go out of business if you're too inefficient,” he would say of his philosophy. (See also: Famous And Infamous CEO Transitions.)

One of the largest costs his operation faced was transportation. As Wal-Mart expanded, one tactic was to make sure that all stores were within a day's drive of a Wal-Mart warehouse. He also saved money by maintaining his own fleet of trucks. And with growth came Wal-Mart’s famous ability to buy name brands in bulk and to drive hard bargains with suppliers.

Walton’s strategy paid off. By 1969, Wal-Mart consisted of 38 stores that rang up $44.2 million in sales. That year, the company officially incorporated as Wal-Mart Stores, and the year after it opened a company headquarters and distribution center in Bentonville, Arkansas.

In 1970, the company went public, trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Wall Street liked Wal-Mart, whose stock split just months after its IPO. And Walton was not about to part with the stock that he and his family owned, keeping it in a partnership set up by his mentor and father-in-law, Leland Stanford Robson.

"Over the years," Walton would write about the basis for his immense wealth, "our Wal-Mart stock has gone into that partnership. Then the board of Walton Enterprises, which is us, the family, makes decisions on a consensus basis. Sometimes we argue, and sometimes we don't. But we control the amount we pay out to each of us, and everybody gets the same... That way, we accumulated funds in Enterprises rather than throwing it all over the place to live high."

In the 1970s, Wal-Mart kept expanding, adding stores in Kansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Texas by 1975. By 1977, just 15 years after Walton had opened the first Wal-Mart, there were 190 such stores all around the country. But its real growth hadn’t yet begun. In 1985, Wal-Mart would open its 800th store.

Walton turned 69 in 1987, and Wal-Mart celebrated its 25th anniversary. At the time, Wal-Mart boasted a staggering 1,198 locations around the country, and annual sales of $15.9 billion. Its army of employees numbered 200,000.

The year also marked the completion of one of Walton’s most ambitious logistics projects: a proprietary satellite network connecting every store, warehouse and office to the Bentonville headquarters. The network allowed headquarters to track inventory and sales in real time. It was, at the time, the largest private satellite network in the world.

These investments paid off, as Wal-Mart became more profitable than well-entrenched retail rivals Kmart and Sears by 1988. Two years later, it would outstrip them both to become the largest U.S. retailer by revenue. (See also: How Walmart Model Wins With "Everyday Low Prices.")

By the early ‘80s, all those stores and all those sales made Walton the richest person in the United States, according to Forbes. From 1982 to 1988, he held the top spot on that list, losing it in 1989, when the editors recorded Walton's fortune as belonging jointly to him and his four children.

In 1988, at the age of 70, Walton retired as CEO, handing the reins to Wal-Mart veteran executive David Glass. Walton would stay on as Chairman of the Board until his death four years later. Those were years that bore out the practices he’d spent the bulk of his adult life developing, as Wal-Mart grew to become the largest retailer in the United States, opening stores in California, Pennsylvania and even Mexico, where it debuted in 1991.

George H. W. Bush awarded Walton with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992, the last year of the business magnate’s life. The University of Arkansas Business College was renamed the Sam M. Walton College of Business in his honor.

“Maybe I was born to be a merchant, maybe it was fate. I don't know about that. But I know this for sure: I loved retail from the very beginning,” Walton said of his vocation.

By the time of his death in 1992, Walton bequeathed a fortune of more than $100 billion on to his heirs. Today, the Walton family is the wealthiest in America, with a combined net worth of roughly $140 billion as of 2017.


Sam Walton: Net Worth
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