Supplier News

Wal-Mart Suppliers Scouring for Talent In NW Arkansas

Wal-Mart Suppliers Scouring for Talent In NW Arkansas
By Kim Souza
March 3rd, 2015

Editor’s note: This article appears in the latest magazine edition of Talk Business & Politics, which you can read here.

The “Vendorville” ecosystem that has cropped up around Wal-Mart Stores Inc. continues to add jobs and positive contributions to the region and state’s economy. But, anywhere from 80 to 100 jobs remain unfilled at any given time, according to Cameron Smith, CEO of Cameron Smith & Associates of Rogers.

Corporate recruiters on Cameron Smith’s team describe the talent pool as “tight” despite consolidation of teams resulting from mergers taking place in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) sector such as Tyson Foods and Hillshire, and Heinz and 3G.

The Tyson Foods and Hillshire merger likely had the biggest impact, but General Mills had significant restructuring last year that cost between five to 10 local jobs, which was about 13% of their local team, according to Scott Crossett, partner and senior recruiter with Cameron Smith & Associates. He said the Heinz acquisition by 3G caused job displacement, and Coca-Cola is going through a restructuring in the next couple of months. On the flip side, restructuring at Kimberly Clark brought a small team back to Northwest Arkansas.

The recruitment experts said these shifts in local numbers are nothing new, but overall the number of jobs in the local sector continues to increase as many of the teams are adding positions to keep up with changes at Wal-Mart.

“Some supplier teams have expanded their local organizational structures in the past year bringing shopper marketing in-house and adding small format specialists to their teams,” said Denise Natishan, senior partner at Cameron Smith & Associates. “The small format is brilliant on Wal-Mart’s part and suppliers are taking it very seriously because it affects shelf space and inventory replenishment changes.”

The recruitment experts estimate local supplier jobs increased by 4% to 5% annually with the bulk of that being the growth in third-party service providers such as technology and data analytics firms. Atlas Technology Group, for instance, expanded its staff from six to 42 employees over the past two years keeping pace with demand for analytical data and weather-related content desired by suppliers and retailers.

“This type of third-party supplier growth is happening across the area and I expect it to continue throughout the next few years as real-time data collection for consumer marketing becomes more mainstream,” Smith said.

By some estimates the supplier, marketing, third-party service and packaging jobs account for as many as 15,000 jobs in Benton and Washington counties. The annual payrolls of these firms exceeds an estimated $1 billion, given the starting pay for college graduates is around $47,000 and top managers pull down a minimum six-figure income, the recruiters said. Smith said the growth in this sector prompted him to increase his staff by 5% over the past two years to 25 employees. His company revenues are also up 18% from a year ago.

Natishan said suppliers value professionals with astute Wal-Mart knowledge and there are opportunities to move up the ladder regardless of age as long as the employee brings knowledge and experience to the table. That said, Natishan said the team structures of many companies are somewhat siloed, which means professionals may have to change companies if they want to move up to other roles.

For instance, a small food company has a lean team of just six professionals, ranging from one director, two business managers, two customer service managers and one business analyst.

Smith said when teams first locate to the region to do business with Wal-Mart, they may only send one or two sales executives to lay the groundwork. Over time, the new teams that do business with Wal-Mart will ramp up to at least six people, maybe more. The organizational chart for a typical CPG (consumer packaged goods) supplier of cleaning products or frozen foods is likely to have added at least one national account manager who works below the director, a supply chain manager and two shopper marketing managers in addition to the business analyst.

“There are plenty of one-person teams calling on Wal-Mart. The account manager does all their own analytical work,” said Mike Whittington, senior partner at Cameron Smith & Associates. “Teams can range from one to 200 members.”

The smaller teams outsource some of their service needs to third-party firms, which also has helped fuel the demand for indirect suppliers.

Natishan said it’s easy to see that there are relatively few places to move up the chain within these tight organization structures, which is why there is frequent movement between suppliers for the average professional. It’s not uncommon to see recruits who locate to Northwest Arkansas with one company, jump ship two or three times to move up the ladder or sometimes just to remain in the region.

Tim Marrin, associate director at Proctor & Gamble, has said getting people to relocate to Northwest Arkansas from Cincinnati used to be challenging, but not nearly as hard as it was lure them back to the home office once they got acclimated to Fayetteville and the rest of Northwest Arkansas.

The medium-to-large teams working in the region typically have a minimum of four at the vice president level. There are an average of six senior directors ranging from insights to sales managers and sales directors. Teams also have at least two category managers and two category analysts in addition to six replenishment experts and six junior sales managers over specific geographic regions.

Crossett said there is a lot of churn in the category manager positions because it’s a growing discipline and there are less qualified candidates than other disciplines.
“There is a high burnout rate of job candidates in category managers who are wanting to get out and move into sales,” Crossett said.

He said the highest turnover position is in replenishment jobs – people who work with Wal-Mart to keep the shelves stocked. Crossett cites heightened expectations at Wal-Mart for “Must Arrive By Date” fines as the retailer is slowly rolling out its new “Global Replenishment System” program known as Retail Link 2.0. He said GRS has caused companies to become more demanding of their supply chain and replenishment employees.

Natishan said there has been more movement from Wal-Mart employees into supplier jobs in recent years, something once considered taboo. She said the larger teams are sensitive to recruiting from Wal-Mart’s talent pool, but that’s usually not the case with smaller vendors.

“The need is to hire the best for your best customer. It remains a candidate-driven market. Having experience and understanding of knowledge gives a credibility that many younger candidates do not have,” Natishan said.

She said most of the candidates she places are sourced locally from the available talent pool. On occasion, Natishan said she finds recruits elsewhere that have former Wal-Mart expertise, which is crucial to most every placement.

“There is some poaching by the request of the suppliers looking for talented candidates who are local,” senior recruiter Jim Mikula added.

The experts also said some companies steer away from hiring from the unemployed pool of applicants, which also keeps the talent pool tight. And that pool remains tight even with the NorthWest Arkansas Community College graduating about 50 each year through its Certified Retail Analysts program. The college said over the past 15 years it handed out 630 certificates to students who had an 87% job placement rate in the local supplier community.

Smith said the local supplier community is unlike any other vendor ecosystem in the world. Even though Wal-Mart does not require its suppliers to have an office in Bentonville, all the major vendors do so because a significant amount of their business is with Wal-Mart.

Greg Foran, CEO of Walmart U.S., told suppliers at the retailer’s Year Beginning Meetings in February that they needed to have their “best and brightest” talent calling on Wal-Mart. He said the retailer is looking to suppliers for shared innovations and insight and that will require the most talented professionals be seated at the table.

Smith said even though Wal-Mart has never demanded a local presence, the retailer’s buyers encourage it, which has been enough motivation for many.

“Even though we have hundreds of teams represented in the region, we are not close to scratching the surface of Wal-Mart’s expansive global supplier network,” Smith said.

He said suppliers tend to move to meet Wal-Mart’s latest initiative, whatever it is, from selling more beer and wine to focusing on smaller formats. In 2013, when Wal-Mart made a conscious effort to sell more adult beverages, at least three liquor companies brought in local sales teams, creating more jobs in this region.

Whittington said even if no more new suppliers opt to move into Northwest Arkansas, the future for the supplier jobs market remains bright. With Wal-Mart developing more store formats, incorporating more e-commerce and digital services, revamping its replenishment system and wooing Millennials and Hispanics, the opportunities will continue to grow for suppliers and those who service the suppliers.

“It is a win-win for all of Northwest Arkansas,” he added.

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Cameron Smith & Associates’ Mission To Put More Women in Public Company Boardrooms

Arkansas Business
by: Jan Cottingham on Monday, Nov. 17, 2014 12:00 am

If people still used Rolodexes, Cameron Smith would have one of the best in the world. As it is, the founder of executive search firm Cameron Smith & Associates has 6,000 names at his fingertips, a digital spreadsheet listing “every Wal-Mart vendor in northwest Arkansas,” he says.

Now, Smith wants to use the contacts built up over 20 years of helping to populate Vendorville to put women on corporate boards. And women — particularly in Arkansas — could use his help.

Nationally, in 2013, women held 16.9 percent of the board seats at the 500 biggest companies, according to Catalyst, a global nonprofit that researches women in business. Heidrick & Struggles, an international executive search firm, was a bit more optimistic in a June report, putting that percentage at 20.2 percent of total Fortune 500 board seats.

In Arkansas, women represent 12.3 percent of the 171 board seats of the 19 public companies based in the state. Almost half — eight — have no women on their boards. Bank of the Ozarks Inc. has the highest percentage: 25 percent of its 16 directors are women.

In an interview at his office in Rogers, Smith works hard to deflect attention from his role in his company’s initiative to put more women on corporate boards, emphasizing the efforts of associates — there are no titles at CSA — Denise Natishan and Catherine Corley, who are leading the effort.

But the fact remains that he’s the one with the monster spreadsheet of names of people doing business with the largest company in the world. And he’s the one who 22 years ago saw the opportunity to make his mark by filling a very specific niche: top provider of executive talent to many of the almost 1,400 vendors doing business with Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Founded in 1992, Cameron Smith & Associates now has 24 employees and an office in Minneapolis (headquarters of Target Corp. and, of course, many of its suppliers) in addition to Rogers. The firm’s revenue last year was $7.8 million.

“In order to be successful in this business, you really have to zero in and be in a niche and be the best in that niche,” Smith said. His niche became retail, specifically big box retail. “We build Vendorvilles,” he said, using a nickname for the area that Tom Jensen, who holds the Wal-Mart Lectureship in Retailing at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, shared with a reporter for The New York Times in 1998. It was one of the first uses of the term, but certainly not the last.

Smith estimates his firm has placed about 3,000 employees. Three thousand people owe something, even if it’s just a little something, to Cameron Smith & Associates. That’s a lot of favors in the favor bank.

Why Diversity, Why Now?

Diversity on corporate boards has been an issue for years. Most companies recognize that having directors from varied backgrounds isn’t simply a theoretical matter of equity; it’s a matter of performance.

Considering gender alone, which is CSA’s initial emphasis, the Credit Suisse Research Institute reported in 2012 that companies with women on their boards performed better financially than their all-male counterparts. The widely cited report, “Gender Diversity and Corporate Performance,” concluded:

First, that “companies with at least some female board representation outperformed those with no women on the board in terms of share price performance.”

Second, that “companies with one or more women on the board have delivered higher average returns on equity, lower gearing, better average growth and higher price/book value multiples over the course of the last six years,” from the end of 2005 to the end of 2011.

In addition, the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission since 2009 has required publicly traded companies to disclose whether they consider diversity when nominating directors and what their policies are regarding diversity on their boards.

Still, progress is slow.

“The lack of women in America’s boardrooms often comes down to access,” Kerry Goodenow, a senior associate with Catalyst, told Arkansas Business. “Catalyst research has busted a lot of the myths we hear today: that there aren’t qualified women available or that CEO experience is necessary to join a board. These excuses are simply not valid.

“Joining a corporate board still tends to come down to networks — who you know and who is willing to advocate for you,” she said. “There are plenty of qualified women, but if boards are not being intentional in their searches and looking for women, they tend to default to a man who all the other men know and feel comfortable with.”

Smith, as a corporate recruiter, was familiar with the literature concerning diversity, but the issue didn’t hit home with him until four years ago.

“I’d heard over and over in various articles that there was a gap there and didn’t really pay much attention to it,” he said. “And then I took a public board seat four years ago myself with Car-Mart.”

It was his first time serving on the board of a publicly traded company.

“We’ve been addressing it there. We know that we need to.” And his fellow directors of America’s Car-Mart Inc., based in Bentonville, are in accord: “From the CEO down, we all agree that that needs to happen.”

What are the specific reasons Car-Mart thinks this would be good for business?

“I think I had a lot to do with that because I’m in the human capital business,” Smith said. “And I’ve seen firsthand the difference in what female executives bring to the table, just a different perspective. I sit on many, many nonprofits with some incredible female directors and I’ve been blown away by the talent.”

Two years ago, Smith said, CSA decided to work toward matching women and corporate boards.

“But you don’t just, you know, hang a sign out on the door and start doing it,” he said. So the company has been assembling a roster of potential director candidates, “thousands of them from around the country.”

After compiling this estrogen-weighted Who’s Who, Smith said, “we feel like we’re ready to start.” In point of fact, CSA has started. “We’re already working with some of the largest companies in the world.” Discussions are sensitive and generally confidential, he said, but the H.J. Heinz Co. is one of the companies Smith’s gender diversity team is working with.

That team is headed by Denise Natishan and Catherine Corley. Natishan came to CSA 10 years ago from Toronto, where she worked in executive recruitment with Canadian Fortune 500 companies like Royal Canadian Mint, the Bank of Montreal and Hiram Walker & Sons Ltd., helping place women into senior positions. Corley is an Arkansan who came to CSA just a few months ago, having previously worked for Sam’s Club, where she was VP of member services, and Tyson Foods, where she was VP of strategic planning, corporate strategy and development.

Goals and Methods

Smith, Natishan and Corley described the firm’s gender diversity initiative and its goals in a written response to questions from Arkansas Business a few days before an in-person interview at CSA’s Rogers office.

The goals:

  • Helping companies achieve greater success by including key stakeholders in decisions that are being made at the board level.
  • Having role models that can inspire others and help develop talent in organizations is simply smart business practice.
  • Having diverse thought that reflects a broader understanding of the consumer is critical for successful companies as we move forward with millennials and the digital world.

The methods:

  • We will be doing what we do best, matching companies’ business needs with the best talent. In this case, we will be working with companies seeking to improve their boards’ effectiveness through diversity in gender, skills and backgrounds. It’s a natural extension to serve our existing clients.
  • We’ll start with our established clients and expand to other public companies, private-equity backed companies, private companies, startups and nonprofits.
  • We’ll bring visibility and opportunity to qualified women director candidates, assisting them in their preparation and search for a board seat.

In an interview a few days later, Natishan said that, particularly for retail companies, women bring value to boards by bringing their experience as consumers to the table. In addition, “there’s just a different dynamic in how women lead,” she said.

Natishan said that client companies have been open to the idea of women directors. “It just makes business sense,” she said. But “it’s a timing thing, too,” because CSA and companies have to take into account succession plans.

“I think the business case for gender-diverse boards has already been made,” Corley said, “so there is demand. It just makes sense to connect that with qualified, board-ready candidates. And both Denise and I know a lot of talented women who are qualified to serve in those roles.”

“In the next 10 or 15 years, hopefully, it’s not even an issue,” Natishan said.

Corley, speaking of the advantages Smith and Natishan bring to the effort, said: “They have relationships with these companies. They understand the executives. They understand the culture. When you’re selecting someone to go on a board, that’s a very tricky thing. The most important thing is it has to be the right fit. It’s not just qualified. And you need someone you can trust, who knows your organization, and that’s really what Cameron and his associates bring to the party.”

And they’re not just focusing on the publicly traded companies based in Arkansas; they have their eyes on companies throughout the U.S. and in Canada.

Cameron Smith & Associates, with its ties to the heavyweights in the retail world, is uniquely situated to have an outsized effect on companies’ efforts to bring aboard female directors.

That’s probably best illustrated by — again — Smith’s miraculous Excel spreadsheet that he wants me to see, this matchmaker’s bible on his computer:

“We have data on everything. This is every Wal-Mart vendor in northwest Arkansas. It’s the 3M team and everybody on the team and their phone numbers. I want you to see this. This is all 6,000 people here, so when I tell you how many people are here, I know for sure.

“Birds Eye, Black & Decker, Cadbury Adams, Dr Pepper, 7Up, Campbell’s Soup team. Every person on the team. Chiquita Bananas, the Clorox team. You can go all the way down here. Novartis, Pennzoil, Quaker State, Pepsi-Cola. Procter & Gamble is the biggest team. So we have that.”And that, certainly, is a start

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Wal-Mart to expand online savings tool nationwide

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is upping the ante on price matching.

The world’s largest retailer said Wednesday that it’s expanding its online tool that compares prices on thousands of products with those of some of its competitors to cities nationwide in the next few months.

Wal-Mart also plans to offer thousands more products, from general merchandise like TVs and shirts to veggies and other produce, on the online tool that’s called Savings Catcher. And customers will also now be able to use Savings Catcher on Wal-Mart’s mobile app.

The expansion comes after Wal-Mart rolled out Savings Catcher in seven markets in March, allowing customers to go to and compare prices of 80,000 grocery and household products at Wal-Mart with many of its competitors with physical stores. If the tool finds a lower price elsewhere, it refunds the difference to shoppers in the form of a store credit.

The discount behemoth is the latest retailer to aggressively court customers with a price-matching policy. Wal-Mart and other stores long have offered to match the lower prices of competitors. But those programs only offer to match lower prices if shoppers do the research on their own, while Savings Catcher is designed to do the legwork for customers.

Wal-Mart is expanding its price-matching tool at a time when rivals are pushing ever lower prices. Wal-Mart built its business on offering the lowest prices on staples such as milk, bread and laundry detergent. But its “every day low price” model is under attack from dollar stores, grocery stores and online retailers, including Amazon. On top of that, the retailer’s primarily lower-income customers continue to struggle in the economic recovery.

Wal-Mart’s U.S. discount division has recorded five consecutive quarters of declines in revenue at stores opened at least a year, a yardstick for measuring a retailer’s health. The discounter also has seen a decline in the number of shoppers in its stores for sixth straight quarters.

“Savings Catcher is a brilliant move on Wal-Mart’s front to combat dollar stores,” said Cameron Smith, who heads up a leading recruiting firm called Cameron Smith & Associates that hires executives for suppliers of Wal-Mart. “This is what Wal-Mart should be doing —throwing down the gauntlet once and for all that they will not be beat on price.”

Wal-Mart has had a price-matching strategy for several years. In 2011, it simplified the policy by making sure workers have the advertised prices of competitors on hand at the register, eliminating the need for shoppers to bring in an ad from a rival store. But unlike rivals like Target and Best Buy, Wal-Mart’s policy does not match the prices of online rivals. Savings Catcher also excludes online rivals, along with store brand items, deli products, bakery and weighed items like produce and meat.

Wal-Mart says since it rolled out Savings Catcher in March in Charlotte, North Carolina, Huntsville, Alabama, Minneapolis, Lexington, Kentucky., Dallas, San Diego and Atlanta, nearly one million receipts have been processed through the tool.

Here’s how it works: A customer sets up an online account, logs onto Savings Catcher and types in the number on their receipt. Savings Catcher compares prices of every item on the receipt to a database of advertised prices of competitors that’s provided by an undisclosed third party. Wal-Mart’s prices are matched to stores based on geographic location. Rivals include Dollar General, Target and Kroger.

Any difference in price is put on a Wal-Mart online gift card. Customers can accumulate savings or use the credit immediately.

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Bumps ahead for new CEO of Wal-Mart

Bumps ahead for new CEO of Wal-Mart

Prices, e-commerce, labor among McMillon’s hurdles

By Cyd King

Publication: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Sunday Feb. 2, 2014, Business Section, page 1G.

BENTONVILLE – Residents in Bentonville woke up Thursday morning to a full-page newspaper ad – an open letter to new Wal-Mart president and chief executive officer Doug McMillon.

The ad, paid for by OUR Walmart (Organization United for Respect at Walmart), congratulated McMillon on his promotion and called for higher wages and better work schedules for Wal-Mart employees. The letter also demanded an end to retaliation against striking workers – action that generated a recent complaint against Wal-Mart by the National Labor Relations Board.

So begins McMillon’s new job as leader of the nation’s largest employer and the world’s largest retailer. On Saturday, he was to attend his first morning meeting as head of the company.

In a challenging economy and increasingly competitive online and brick-and-mortar retail environment, it appears McMillon has his work cut out for him.

As he takes the big chair, analysts and others say there are some key issues McMillon must immediately address: a lag in e-commerce innovation; dwindling food-sales traffic in stores; and stagnant food prices, which hurt same-store sales growth. Grocery sales make up roughly one-fourth of Wal-Mart’s business, said Stacey Widlitz, president of SW Retail Advisors. Her company provides retail market intelligence to investment institutions and corporations from offices in London and New York.

Cameron Smith, a Wal-Mart insider and headhunter for Wal-Mart suppliers, said McMillon is believed to be focusing on keeping costs down, driving business through e-commerce and taking care of Wal-Mart’s employees, known within the corporate culture as “associates.”

“They are no longer the lowest-priced retailer,” Smith said of Wal-Mart. “They have to compete in the dot-com business. They’ve got to.”

Mc-Millon, a Jonesboro native and University of Arkansas graduate, is 47 – the youngest of Wal-Mart’s CEOs since founder Sam Walton. McMillon started at a distribution center while working on his master’s in business administration at the University of Tulsa. He has more than 20 years with the company, working in all segments of Wal-Mart’s business, noted Widlitz. Before he became president and CEO of the company, he led the international and Sam’s Club divisions. McMillon also now sits on the retailer’s board of directors.

The general consensus among suppliers, said Smith, is that McMillon is smooth, charming and humble all at once. On the same day OUR Walmart’s full-page plea for labor changes was published, McMillon spoke to a gathering of the company’s top hierarchy of product suppliers at an exclusive, early-morning fundraiser for The Cancer Challenge, a 20-year-old organization that supports area cancer-related programs and services. The affair, held at the 21C Museum Hotel in Bentonville, was one of the new CEO’s first speaking engagements since he was promoted last year.

McMillon spoke mostly about philanthropy and little about Wal-Mart. Attendees were asked to give a minimum of $6,000. The event was sponsored by Wal-Mart and hosted by Smith, whose Rogers-based Cameron Smith & Associates is well known as the go-to place for anyone looking to work or change jobs within the Wal-Mart supplier community.

“Everybody working inside that building at Eighth [Street] and Walton [Boulevard] is ecstatic that Doug’s going to manage the ship,” Smith said, referring to Wal-Mart’s home office.

Added Widlitz: “He is the picture of the type of leader you’d want leading a company of this size at this time.”

Requests to interview Mc-Millon and outgoing Wal-Mart president and CEO Mike Duke were denied.

“Neither of them are doing any interviews at this time,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Brooke Buchanan.

After several quarters of stagnant earnings, Wal-Mart has trimmed back its annual forecast for its 2014 fiscal year, which ended Friday. Earnings for the fourth quarter and year are scheduled for release Feb. 20.

Last week, Switzerland-based Credit Suisse upgraded Wal-Mart from “neutral” to “outperform” as McMillon takes over. While the outgoing chief, Duke, spent much of his tenure addressing merchandising, technology and operational issues, McMillon is now in a position to make morestrategic changes, said Credit Suisse analyst Michael Exstein. A shift toward more smaller size stores, a fine-tuning of the company’s international operations and a recommitment to general merchandise is expected, Exstein said in a note to clients. His six-page report includes a disclosure that says Credit Suisse “does and seeks to do business with companies covered in its research reports” and that a conflict of interest can occur. Exstein raised his target per-share stock price from $80 to $87. The stock’s 52-week high was $81.37 with a target estimate of $84.09. Big changes are ahead for retail as big-box merchandisers like Sears, Kmart, J.C. Penney, Toys R Us and Target are showing signs of weakening, Exstein said.

“The question will be who can pick up share as this realignment begins to accelerate,” he said. “We expect Wal-Mart will take advantage of this opportunity by re-engaging in its general merchandise business.”

Some of the economic headwinds Wal-Mart is encountering are out of McMillon’s control.

“The biggest problem they’re facing is the lack of inflation and how that impedes their ability to increase prices,”said Brian Gilmartin, portfolio manager at Trinity Asset Management in Chicago. The situation also makes it difficult for Wal-Mart to extract savings from its suppliers, he said.

Gilmartin boasts that he has a 600-line Excel spreadsheet on Wal-Mart that has data going back to the mid-1990s.

Worker safety conditions in Asia, a national movement by Wal-Mart employees over labor issues and the investigation into Wal-Mart’s alleged violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in Mexico and other countries have made headlines in recent years. The retailer’s Mexican subsidiary has been accused of making payments to foreign officials to ease the issuance of certain licenses or permits.

“I just think because they’re so big and because they’ve been so successful that they’ve become a target for the press,” Gilmartin said. “They’re easy to beat up.” Some 245 million people visit more than 11,000 Wal-Mart stores and Sam’s Clubs in 27 countries and e-commerce websites in 10 countries each week.

One large long-term institutional shareholder, the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, called for the retailer to publicly disclose whether it had clawed back pay from executives whose actions have caused “significant financial harm” to the company and its owners. A clawback is the recoupment of executive pay. The trust’s request was put on the ballot for last year’s annual Wal-Mart shareholders meeting but was turned down – although it got 32.5 percent of the independent-shareholder vote. The majority of Wal-Mart stock is owned by the Walton family and other company insiders.

“As we enter this new chapter of leadership for Walmart, it is our hope [McMillon] will re-examine the steps the company is taking to promote an ethical culture including holding its top executives financially accountable for violations of federal and state laws,” said Meredith Miller, chief governance officer for the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust. At this year’s shareholders meeting in June, that particular group of stockholders will again ask the company to publicly disclose if it clawed back any compensation from its executives related to incidents of fraud or corruption, she said. “New leadership always presents new opportunities,” Miller added. “It’s our hope that the new CEO will listen to the request from investors about more disclosure.”


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Walmart’s In-Store Execution {2014 Supplier Survey by Cameron Smith & Associates}

The following article regarding in-store execution (based upon the 2014 Supplier Survey by Cameron Smith & Associates) was written by Cyd King and ran 12/06/2013 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

Wal-Mart slips in suppliers’ survey

Cyd King


ROGERS — A new survey of Wal-Mart suppliers — those who sell millions of items to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for retail sale in stores — shows that many suppliers are not happy with the way their products are displayed and when the products are promoted.

The problem — using a retail industry term — is called “in-store execution,” and suppliers said it is Wal-Mart’s biggest opportunity for improvement in relationships between suppliers and Wal-Mart.

In-store execution includes everything from inventory and manpower to timing and use of eye-catching displays. Some displays the suppliers spend six figures or more to develop.

In-store execution is the top concern among suppliers to Wal-Mart Stores Inc., according to the 2014 Supplier Survey by Cameron Smith Associates in Rogers. A magazine article on the survey results is expected to be published in the next edition of Walmart Supplier News, a publication of Retailing Today. 

Concerns about in-store execution ranked third with suppliers who took the first survey in 2010. Only 38 percent of those surveyed this year said Wal-Mart shelf availability for their company’s products is better today that it was a year ago. The Supplier Survey also gathered suppliers’ input regarding inventory levels in stores and sufficient store labor.

Suppliers participated anonymously to prevent jeopardizing their buyer-supplier relationships, said Cameron Smith, founder of Cameron Smith Associates.

“It’s tough,” Smith said. “The suppliers are supposed to be working for their companies, but they’re really representing Wal-Mart with their companies.”

Wal-Mart spokesman Deisha Barnett said Wal-Mart executives are keeping an eye on in-store execution.

“We think it’s better than it has been, even [from] a year ago. We have full confidence in the team that we have in place, at the store level all the way up to senior management,” she said.

“We’ve seen improvement in our customer-experience scores because we’ve been really focused on serving the customer.”

She objected to the limited number of suppliers surveyed, 132 out of 1,300-plus vendor teams that provide items to Wal-Mart in the area.

Smith said his company cherry-picked only the “top tier” supplier teams in Northwest Arkansas, including the only 10 teams with more than 100 people that service their companies’ Wal-Mart accounts.

More than 28 percent of survey respondents said in-store execution is heading in the wrong direction at Wal-Mart.

That number is up from 11 percent of those queried for last year’s survey.

Thirty-two percent said in-store execution is somewhat worse than it was last year.

Behind in-store execution, the participants said Wal-Mart needs to improve its merchandise planning and replenishment in stores.

Scott Winchester — director of sales at Blue Rhino, one of the nation’s top propane tank exchange brands and a designer and marketer of barbecue grills, outdoor heaters and other outdoor appliances — is one supplier who is satisfied with Wal-Mart’s store-level execution.

Wal-Mart recently started stocking Blue Rhino products at 14 stores in Northwest Arkansas, where the retailers once carried another brand.

“They like our service a little bit better so they’ve chosen to give us those local stores,” he said of Wal-Mart choosing to stock its shelves with his products.

Of the vendors queried, more than three-fourths of them have worked with Wal-Mart for at least 10 years; nearly half have handled their companies’ Wal-Mart accounts for more than 15 years.

The survey boiled down four years’ worth of suppliers’ insights into two observations: “Wal-Mart’s business has experienced considerable fluctuation against the backdrop of lingering economic challenges and restrained consumer spending,” and “the company has remained steadfast in its efforts to restore a traditional approach to managing its business.”

When supplier executives were asked to characterize their companies’ relationship with Wal-Mart, nearly 42 percent said it was very solid, with some occasional conflict; about 32 percent said the relationship was challenging; and about 30 percent described the relationship as tough but fair.

Survey participants gave high marks to the retail giant’s senior leadership across all divisions and disciplines.

Suppliers believe “the company is leveraging its scale to operate more efficiently, but senior merchants are not always on the same page with [Wal-Mart] buyers who are remaining in their roles longer,” the survey said.

While suppliers widely agree that Wal-Mart is on the right track with global ecommerce, many are unsure how to work effectively with the e-commerce group and are not seeing a high level of internal collaboration from Wal-Mart, according to the survey.

They also believe that Sam’s Club is an attractive growth platform for Wal-Mart corporate, particularly with the rate in which it is remodeling, moving and expanding its stores.

In the eyes of suppliers, Wal-Mart’s biggest competitor is Dollar General/Family Dollar, followed by Amazon, Costco/BJ’s Wholesale Club, Kroger and Target, the survey said.


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Navigating a job search? A recruiter can show you the way


Job search can be both exciting and nerve-racking, but we help people navigate the process every day. When you’re ready to make a job change, there are plenty of good reasons to work with a recruiter who specializes in your industry. As you decide who to partner with and why, consider some of the ways CSA can help you make the transition.

  • Confidentiality: Working with a recruiter is much more secure than trusting your resume to job boards. Because they sell paid access to their resume database, job boards can provide your credentials, professional history, and salary information to a range of subscribers. If that makes you uncomfortable, a recruiter can help you be more strategic and selective about your search.
  • Resume review: We like to start by going over your resume with you. Listening to your story from a hiring manager’s perspective, we pay attention to what you’ve included and what may be missing. We often advise candidates on how to better organize content, polish format, and provide relevant details that spark interest – and interviews.
  • Insight into the job market: Working daily with candidates, companies, hiring managers and HR departments, our recruiters are very knowledgeable about the job market including upcoming positions, confidential searches, and job openings that have not been published. When the right job for you comes along, very likely we will know about it.
  • Interview preparation: Your recruiter can give you an inside track on the hiring manager and team culture before you interview. The recruiter can answer your questions about the company and advise you on how to prepare for the interview to make the most of your meeting.
  • Salary negotiation: Our recruiters know what people earn in this industry and in this market. They often mediate the salary negotiations, helping company and candidate arrive at a fair offer that makes sense for both parties.

Working with a recruiter means you have an experienced ally to advise you in your search. We know we are not your entire job search strategy (and we shouldn’t be), but the more we know about your goals and expertise, the better we can guide you in managing your career and maybe even help you land your dream job.


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Dear Candidate: What Not To Say


We love a motivated individual with a fantastic attitude, exceptional drive and self-confidence in spades. And, we also love a good dose of humility, tireless work ethic and impeccable integrity. In fact, we love nothing more than identifying an individual with all of these assets.

However, these character traits are meaningless if a candidate does not have practical field experience with a consumer products firm. No matter how hard-working and committed, we can’t place an individual who lacks the specific credentials required for a position. Read: The Perfect Candidate.

Entry-level jobs within the Walmart supplier community do exist, but our clients rarely bring us those assignments. They tend to fill those jobs themselves and come to us for roles that require industry-specific skills and experience.

So, no matter how much we really like you personally, how long we’ve known you or how impressive your resume and past experience, here is where the rubber meets the road and we have to tell you – bluntly – that you may be incredibly qualified, but not for the jobs we seek to fill.

Below are some comments we hear from candidates looking to join the supplier community, followed by a few words from a recruiter’s perspective.

  • “Just get me the interview, I’ll get the job.” We share your certainty of your capabilities. However, if we made a practice of sending unqualified – albeit charismatic – individuals to talk or charm their way into positions, we would lose credibility with the companies we serve.
  • “I can learn Retail Link.” Absolutely, you can – and you should if you want to work in the Walmart supplier community. But until you have solid experience using Retail Link, we can’t recommend you to a company that needs someone who can hit the ground running to serve their largest customer. Yes, you can learn Retail Link. Most of us can learn to dance, but we can’t be on Dancing with the Stars. Going to work for a CPG firm in northwest Arkansas means “being ready for prime time.” You need to know your stuff.
  • “Just keep my resume on file.” We keep a wide range of resumes in our database. But please understand we are not a candidate placement firm – we are an executive search firm. Read: What IS An Executive Search Firm? The companies we serve do occasionally ask us to help fill administrative or accounting roles outside the traditional analyst and category management roles. Although we’d love to place you, we may not have an opportunity that matches your background for months or even years. But rest assured there is no better place to leave your current resume on file, because when a great job that suits you becomes available, we are the most likely to know about it!
  • “I have sales experience.” or “A widget is a widget.” We agree – some of the world’s best salespeople cut their teeth working in department stores, cold calling in college or even managing a substantial retail operation. But managing the Walmart account for a CPG company today means being proficient in Retail Link analysis. Sales people at this very competitive level are knowledgeable and skilled with a range of technical tools. When they meet with the buyer, they bring a thorough understanding of strategy, tactics, category, and data. They come prepared to back up every recommendation with facts based on data drawn from multiple sources. Walmart is famously not an easy sell. Successful National Account Managers for the Walmart team have devoted years to studying the customer and learning the tools of their trade.
  • “I have team leadership experience.” Just as selling to Walmart is unique, the title of “Team Leader” is unique to the Walmart supplier community. When you hear “Team Leader,” think “Senior VP.” The best analogy we can offer here is that no matter how good a high school football coach may be, he can’t walk into a position as a Division 1 coach. Leading a Walmart team for a major brand is akin to the Super Bowl.

It’s our job to do the best matchmaking possible for our clients and candidates. We pride ourselves on delivering exactly what they need, when they need it. And when the perfect opportunity arises for your skill set, you’ll get to see firsthand why our approach works!

Typewriter image credit/source

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Recruiter Tips: The Perfect Candidate

imageCameron Smith & Associates retains a top-notch team of recruiters (read: Beyond The Jargon: Defining the Recruiter) whose focus is on identifying the perfect candidate for hundreds of consumer products companies.

This singular focus on the perfect candidate is critical, because our company does not exist to simply place warm bodies in chairs. Rather, the goal is to identify the absolute best and brightest talent for the firms we serve. In this sense, the work of the recruiter is like matchmaking: it is our job to know our clients’ culture and preferences and to introduce them to the best possible match.

Our partner companies are seeking the perfect candidate to work directly with their number one customer. They want the absolute best person they can find to represent their brand impeccably.

So, what defines the perfect candidate?

Let’s not beat around the bush on this: today’s ideal candidate is an up and comer with a polished personal image and presentation. He or she has a four-year degree, if not an MBA. The individual is mobile and has practical experience working with specific systems and tools, especially Retail Link. Expert skills in Excel and PowerPoint (and sometimes Access) are commonly required.

The ideal candidate is not just technically proficient. The perfect candidate is humble, positive, proactive, and thorough. This person is naturally analytical, a strategic thinker, and a thoughtful listener. The perfect candidate builds relationships and inspires trust. A consummate team player, this person is more concerned about solving the problem than who gets the credit. This person is a lifelong learner and student of the customer, in touch with the latest trends and excited about the future of a rapidly evolving industry.

If this describes you, our team needs to have your resume regardless of your current situation because we seek to align that perfect candidate with the perfect opportunity. In short, we work to not only put the right people on the right bus, but in the right seat on the bus headed in the right direction at the right time.

So what if this doesn’t describe you – or it doesn’t describe you today? The perfect candidate is honed over time. Set your sights on obtaining the education and training and create a strategy for developing the qualities above. Watch for an upcoming post called The Candidate Road Map: A Blueprint For Working For A CPG Firm. Explore local resources such as the Degree Completion Program at John Brown University, The Retail Institute at NorthWest Arkansas Community College or Retail Link training through 8th and Walton.

Pocket watch: image source/credit

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Beyond The Jargon: Defining The Recruiter

20130808-102508.jpgRecruiters know that passive candidates are typically anything but passive. They are experienced, skilled, and actively employed. Often they are high achievers who are fully engaged in contributing to the success of their company and their team. One thing they are not doing is looking to change jobs. They’re too busy and too happy working right where they are.

Why would a happy employee take a call from a recruiter? For one, it’s flattering. For another, it’s interesting to learn about opportunities in your industry. And if a “passive” candidate is open to new possibilities, he or she can leverage a record of success by quietly partnering with an executive recruiter.

Here are a few analogies to clarify the unique role of the executive recruiter in recognizing and developing talent:

We are like savvy talent scouts. While you show up for work every day and stay committed, we can be on the lookout for your perfect job. Incidentally, this doesn’t mean we are constantly poaching talent. It simply means that we have a bird’s eye view of the industry and can often spot an ideal match between a position and a talented individual. In other words: you know what an agent does for an actor? That’s what we do for executives. We’re always looking for an opportunity for you to read the script for the role that might earn you an Oscar.

We are like scrappy sports agents. In essence, our recruiters can help you proactively manage your career. We do a little coaching, and we even help position the candidate to the firm – just as an excellent agent positions the athlete to the GM. In fact, we tend to feel a little protective about our talent, just like Jerry Maguire: we go to the mat for our candidates and can’t stand the thought of you calling another firm, because we work for you.

We are like top realtors. A great real estate agent is there to help you find the perfect home. They know the area, the houses, the market and your financial situation, and they want to help you find the one that you will love – and the one you’re qualified to buy. And when you’re ready to upgrade to a new house, you call them again – because they’re going to take care of you. We’ve managed people throughout their entire career. Again, this doesn’t mean we’re moving people around like a high stakes chess game. It simply means that sometimes our candidates tell us, in effect: “I’m not in the market for a house, but if I came across one in my price range that I absolutely loved, I might consider moving.”

The bottom line in all these examples is that we spend every day looking for the perfect storm: the script that screams the name of our best actor, the invitation to the big dance for our best athlete, the home where our buyer can raise a family and enjoy the neighborhood for years to come.

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Beyond The Jargon: What IS An Executive Search Firm?

imageOne of the first thing recruiters learn when they go into the executive search business is that most people don’t know what executive search is or how it works.

An individual might call and say, “Tell me about your process. I’m starting my job search and I might want to become one of your clients.” It’s a common misunderstanding, so we try to explain. The job seeker is not the client. The hiring company is the client. The job seeker is the candidate.

Here is a simple explanation:

An executive search firm is hired by a company (or employer) to fill a very specific, essential job. Our job is to find the best candidate for that exact job.

To state it another way, we work for the company and not the candidate. Some people have the impression that we are an employment agency and that we look for jobs for people. In fact, we source people for specific jobs.

That said, we have a talented, well-connected and enthusiastic team of recruiters who seek resumes from highly-qualified individuals within the industry we serve. Nothing makes them happier than to find the right person for the client company. So now that we’ve been upfront about what we aren’t doing, here’s what we are doing:

Connecting suppliers with the very best and brightest talent.

We are based in northwest Arkansas and predominantly recruit for consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies who are suppliers to the world’s largest retailer: Walmart.

And, just as the suppliers we work with have products on the shelves of multiple retailers, we also place candidates on the supplier teams serving Target, Costco, and other retailers.

For this reason, we have offices in Seattle and Minneapolis, although our entire team actively places candidates in supplier roles across the United States and around the world. While this seems like a very narrow niche that we serve, in actuality the consumer products industry is a large sector of the economy.

A company calls us and tells us precisely what they are looking for, and it is the job of our recruiters to have thorough knowledge of the candidates in our pool, the position at hand, the industry overall, and the local market. They continuously source new candidates through research and referrals. They may speak to dozens of people in order to find a very few qualified candidates to introduce to their client. In the process, they also speak to a lot of capable people who are not a match for the job.

As a result, our team works to be approachable and professional, but also honest: 99% of the roles we fill are very specific to the CPG industry. If you don’t yet have experience with a consumer products company on the Walmart account, it’s unlikely we can place you – yet. (We do have tips on how to break into the field. More on that in an upcoming post.) At the end of the day we have to deliver exactly what the company asks us to deliver: qualified people prepared to manage millions of dollars worth of business with the company’s biggest customer in the world.

Binoculars: image credit/source

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