2021-03-29 by W.M.
“It’s Not Just About Shots.” Judith McKenna, Walmart International CEO, Talks Vaccination Rollout
(Miss this week’s Leadership Brief? This interview below was delivered to the inbox of Leadership Brief subscribers on Sunday morning, March 28; to receive weekly emails of conversations with the world’s top CEOs and business decisionmakers, click here.)
Doug McMillon‘s last job before the CEO slot at Walmart was running its international division. That position is currently held by Judith McKenna. It’s a really big job. McKenna, as CEO of Walmart International, is responsible for 5,141 stores in 23 countries—from Costa Rica to India to China—staffed by nearly 550,000 employees. In addition, she is responsible for Walmart’s global sourcing operation, arranging for the purchase and delivery of the goods that contributed to Walmart’s $559 billion in revenue last year.
In a recent video conversation from her office at Walmart’s Bentonville, Ark., headquarters, McKenna discussed Walmart’s vaccination efforts and the country with the fastest delivery times in the world. But don’t ask her about Zoom fatigue.
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(This interview with Walmart International CEO Judith McKenna has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
What’s the latest on Walmart’s involvement in the vaccine rollout in the U.S.?
I was talking to [an executive involved in the effort] and he reckons we can get to 10 to 13 million shots a week if we had the supply. It is not without its complications, as you can imagine. We need a scheduling system. How do we keep records? How do we call people back? The list of why you couldn’t do it was endless, but the energy of people to make it happen was far greater, and we’re still learning as we go. I think that 95% of the U.S. population is within 10 miles of a Walmart, and all of our stores have pharmacies. So that reach is incredible, but we also have the ability to set up pop-up centers if we need to, particularly in underserved communities. And we’re getting heavily involved in education. If you think about our stores in a rural location, the people who work there are the community, so we can help educate our associates about the vaccines and why it’s a good idea. And they will help educate the community as well. So it’s not just about shots.
What about outside the U.S.?
We just gave our very first vaccine in Canada. Red Deer, Alberta, and I even know the names, it was Joseph and Grace.
How has the Suez Canal disruption impacted Walmart, both in the U.S. and internationally?
Walmart sources globally from countries around the world and we have an extremely diversified supply chain. We actually source many of our products locally. 93% of products we sell in Mexico are sourced from Mexico, for example, and nearly two-thirds of products purchased in the U.S. are made, grown, or assembled stateside. We have teams that are working hard to ensure supply chain events like this one have as little impact on our customers as possible. We are monitoring it closely.
In a normal year, how many miles do you fly?
I have no idea and I’m not sure that I want to know, but I’ve probably been around the world a couple of times in the past three years. The last year of course was somewhat disrupted, but before that, I would try to get to every market, every year.
Do you miss it?
You don’t do a job like this if you don’t enjoy the traveling. Zoom is brilliant and we’re doing virtual visits, but I like to walk stores. And you do get to the stage where the family is like, “Isn’t it time for you to get on a plane again?”
Without all that travel, how do you make sure you don’t forget to bring your phone chargers or other essentials?
I have a suitcase packed, which has a replica of everything I need when I travel. I have a little piece of paper, and if I run out of something I write down, “Get more contact lenses in my travel kit,” and when I get home, I replenish. It makes me sound fantastically organized. For business travel, I am. That does not apply to my personal travel.
Perception is reality. I think Walmart was a lot better than people thought.”
I saw you recently hired a new president, Xiaojing Christina Zhu, of Walmart in China. How does that work during the pandemic?
The thing about Christina is, I never met her in person. She’s never met any of us. She started, and we recruited her virtually, she started virtually, and she leads her business without having ever been to Bentonville. I was just thinking about global talent. My CEO in Canada is an Argentinian that used to run our Chilean business. Our CEO in Mexico is Brazilian, and was in Brazil previously. One of the teams that ran Walmart India is about to come to the U.S. to work for Sam’s Club.
It seems that the view of Walmart is changing, from kind of the evil destroyer of small-town America and exploiter of low-wage workers to a more civic-minded company: Do you think that was a valid perception, and what’s changed?
Perception is reality. I think Walmart was a lot better than people thought, here in the U.S., in particular. But I still think there was more that could have been done, and I think watching those pieces come together is incredible. It started with sustainability. And it’s continuing on that journey now.
You oversee global sourcing, and everybody is asking: After the supply-chain disruptions caused by COVID, are global supply chains dead?
The last time I looked, you can’t grow bananas in the U.K. so you’re probably still going to have them. I do think you will see everybody think more about what you can manufacture domestically. You’re always going to need a stable global supply chain as well.
China leads the world in speed of delivery, and I understand you are studying your operations there to apply those approaches in markets around the world. What’s the standard delivery time for a retail order in China?
It’s about an hour to a couple of hours, maximum. The fastest we ever did an order from start to finish was nine minutes. The network of people on bikes, motorbikes and everything else is extraordinary, so you have a last-mile delivery capability.
Wearing a sustainability lens, this notion that we need everything in an hour, isn’t that a little preposterous? Can’t we wait a little bit longer?
Think about it this way: you pop to the shop in 10 or 15 minutes. So you’ve used your fuel to go to the store and to come back. I’ve got one delivery driver who might deliver to three different people. I think it’s a trade-off.
And pre-pandemic, you began testing in-home delivery in a couple of markets?
We have a Walmart associate go into your home, and we go and we put the food in your fridge and we put your groceries on the kitchen table. It’s not probably not for everybody.
How is your team doing morale-wise? It’s been a challenging year.
I have this phrase, which is: manage your energy, not your time. So which I try personally, to find things which give me real energy. But I tell everybody, myself included, which is: we’re all really privileged that we work at home. We’ve got 2.2 million people around the world, serving customers. I know I sound a little preachy but it’s really important. You hear people talking about fatigue, and they’re like, we’ve got a job to do.
How different are the offerings in Walmart stores around the world?
Everybody’s different. If you walk our stores in China, we’ve got live seafood. That doesn’t go down well in the U.S. But you know, everybody sells lemons.
Programming note: Next month, TIME will publish its first-ever list of the world’s most influential companies. The Leadership Brief will be off for the next two weeks as we work to complete the list, returning Sunday, April 18.
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Correction, March 29
The original version of this interview misstated the number of vaccine shots Walmart could deliver if supply is available. It’s 10 to 13 million shots per month, not per week. The original version also mischaracterized the presence of pharmacies in Walmart’s U.S. stores: nearly all, not all, of Walmart’s U.S. stores have pharmacies.