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Chapter 5 Raising a Family
  "As kids, we all worked for the company in one way or another. I got to work behind the candy counteror run the popcorn stand when I was five years old. The business was part of life, and it was alwaysincluded in the dinner conversation. We heard a lot about the debt it took to open new stores, and Iworried about it. I remember confiding to my girlfriend one timecryingand saying, 'I don't know whatwe're going to do. My daddy owes so much money, and he won't quit opening stores.'"ALICE WALTONIn the early years, before Wal-Mart, I don't think our family was much different from most other familiesof that era. Helen and I had made pretty deliberate plans; we wanted four kids, and Helen said she'd liketo have them all by the time she was thirty so she could enjoy her grown children and her grandkids. Sureenough, by the time we left Newport, we had four kids: three boysRob, John, and Jimand a baby girl,Alice.

One of the reasons Helen insisted all along on our living in a small town, I'm sure, is so we could raisethe kids with the same values she and I had been exposed to in our youth. And we did, except it wasn'tthe Depression, and we never had to worry about having enough to go around at the dinner table.

Another goal of ours was to create the kind of family togetherness Helen had grown up with. I've alreadytold you how much the Robsons influenced Helen and me in the organization of our finances, but really Ithink their successful, happy, prosperous family was just an all-round inspiration for the kind of family Iwanted as a young man, and, of course, it was the only kind of family Helen ever considered.

I have fond memories of my own boyhood, yet it pains me to talk about one part of it. But becauseHelen thinks it had an important influence on me, I'll mention it briefly. The simple truth is that Mother andDad were two of the most quarrelsome people who ever lived together. I loved them both dearly, andthey were two wonderful individuals, but they were always at odds, and they really only stayed togetherbecause of Bud and me. After we were grown, they even split up and went their separate ways for awhile. During the war, for example, Mother moved to California to work in the defense plants. Butgrowing up as the oldest child, I felt like I took a lot of the brunt of this domestic discord. I'm not exactlysure how this situation affected my personalityunless it was partly a motivation to stay so busy all thetimebut I swore early on that if I ever had a family, I would never expose it to that kind of squabbling.

So Helen and I did the best we could to promote a sense of togetherness in the family, and we madesure our children had a chance to participate in the same sorts of things we did as kids. They were inScouts, and for a time I was a scoutmaster. All the boys played football and did well. In fact, they eachmade the all-state team, and when Jim was about to graduate I remember the coach being quoted aroundtown to the effect that he couldn't face the prospect of a team without a Walton, so he was trying to talkAlice into going out for football. She probably wouldn't have been half bad either. I always tried to behome on Friday nights so I would miss very few of their games. They threw paper routes; you know howstrongly I felt about that experience as training. Alice was involved with horse shows at a very early age.

And, of course, we all went to church and Sunday school. I was a Sunday school teacher there for awhile too.

Helen walton:

"Sam did teach Sunday school for a while, but even then he had unusual work habits. During one periodin Newport, he would work until ten on Saturday night, and then he'd get up and go right back in Sundaymorning. We were supposed to be taking turns about getting the kids to Sunday school, and to get fourlittle kids dressed for church with nobody to help me was a little unreal. It's true that we had less timewith Sam after Wal-Mart, but don't get the idea that he wasn't working most of the time before that."Through our combined efforts the kids received your everyday heartland upbringing, based on the sameold bedrock values: a belief in the importance of hard work, honesty, neighborliness, and thrift. Helenbore more than her share of raising the kids, and I worked long hours, at least six days a week. Saturdaywas our big store day, and I worked all day Saturday and Saturday night too. As far as I'm concerned,our values really took. The only thing that might have made our family different was that, as Alice said,everybody was involved in working around the stores.

Rob walton:

"We always worked in the stores. I would sweep the floors and carry boxes after school, and evenmore in the summer. I remember just barely having a driver's license and driving a truckload ofmerchandise one night up to that Ben Franklin in Saint Robert, which we all knew to be the best BenFranklin in the world. In those days, we all got an allowance too, and it was less than some of ourfriends. I don't know that we particularly felt deprived, but we didn't have a lot of money. Dad wasalwaysfrugal is probably a good word for it. But he always let us invest in those stores, and I had aninvestment in that Saint Robert store so I came out real well on that. It paid for my house and variousotherDad would call themextravagances."I guess the kids thought of themselves as slave labor back then, but we didn't work them that hard. Wejust taught them the value of work. And besides, I needed the helpat the store and at home. I didn'thave time to mow the lawn, and why should I anyway, with three strapping boys and a healthy girlavailable for chores. And it wasn't all work. Helen and I made it a point to take the whole family out andspend time traveling or camping together. Sometimes the kids thought of these trips as forced marches,but I think that time we spent together has had a lot to do with our close relationship as a family today.

We have a lot of good memories of traveling all over the country, especially in this one fine old DeSotostation wagon.


"Dad always said you've got to stay flexible. We never went on a family trip nor have we ever heard of abusiness trip in which the schedule wasn't changed at least once after the trip was underway. Later, we allsnickered at some writers who viewed Dad as a grand strategist who intuitively developed complex plansand implemented them with precision. Dad thrived on change, and no decision was ever sacred."HELEN WALTON:

"Sam wasn't so tied up year-round until Wal-Mart started. During the Ben Franklin days, we took amonth off every year. In fifty-six, I remember we did the whole state of Arkansas. We went to the parks,camped out, and we all fell in love with this state because we really got to know it. That was a marvelous,wonderful time. Then one year we took a long trip to Yellowstone, another year we went to Mesa Verdeand the Grand Canyon, and another time we took a long journey up the East Coast. We took a car fullof kids and all our camping equipment strapped on everywhere, and I loved it. Camping was reallyimportant in our lives. Of course, we always had to stop and look at storesany kind of storeson theway to wherever we were headed. You know, we would go through a good town, and he knew aboutsome store there. I would sit in the car with the kids, who, of course, would say, 'Oh no, Daddy, notanother store...' We just got used to it. Later on, Sam never went by a Kmart that he didn't stop andlook at it."ALICE WALTON:

"It was great. We would get in the station wagon four brats and the dogstrap the canoe on top andhitch up a homemade trailer behind, and take off for a different part of the country every summer. Wewould always do it as long as Dad could stop and see his stores along the way. He would usually get ussituated, set up camp, and then Mother would stay at camp with us while he took off to look at stores.

We learned to work together, and everybody had their chores, and at night we prayed together.

"You know, it's interesting. I know Dad worked incredible hours, and I know he traveled a lot, but Inever really felt like he was gone much. He went out of his way to spend time with us, and he was fun tobe with. He loved to play baseball with us. I tagged along with him on his trips a good bit, and I still visitstores because of it. When I got into junior high and high school, he would take me to my horse shows.

Mother thought he was staying and watching, but Dad and I had a pact. He would drop me off, and Iwould show my horses, while he would go look at stores. The store thing was always a part of it. Itwasn't that he wasn't supportive or fair. It was just something he had to do, and we understood it."ROB WALTON:

"I remember Dad visiting stores, but I don't remember the store visits as imposing or interfering with thetrips because mostly I remember the trips as being really good times.

"On the trip to the Grand Tetons, we had an opportunity to take what was a very expensivefor thattimepack trip up into the mountains to a fishing camp and stay there for a few days. But that was goingto use up all our money, and we had to take a family vote to decide whether to do that or not. Wedecided to do it, and it was fun. But after we had spent all our money on the big trip, we made a quickstop in the Black Hills and hiked it on home in a hurry.

"I especially remember the trip East. We went through the Carolinas and headed up the coast. It wasMother and Dad and all four kids and one scroungy dog named Tiny. We rolled into New York City in astation wagon with a canoe on top and a camping trailer on the backthat was the first time any of us kidshad ever been there. I have one really special memory of that trip. We went to seeCamelot, with theoriginal castJulie Andrews, Richard Burton, Roddy McDowall, and Robert Gouletand we were allwearing Bermuda shorts."Of course, what they say is true. I was visiting stores all the time, and I still do it today. In feet, we'vevisited them all over the world, and gotten some great ideas that wayas well as a few that didn't workout so well. Like working weekends, it's just something you have to do if you want to be successful in theretail business. I'm glad my kids remember the good times and don't seem to resent me too much for myabsences and distractions over the years. I think maybe one reason they don't have too much resentmentis that Helen and I always involved them in the business and kept them informed right from the startI hadno idea, incidentally, that Alice was so frightened of debt as a little girl, but there are certainly moreirrational things she could have feared. They may not have wanted to go visit all those stores while wewere on vacation, but they had some idea why I was doing it. They worked in the stores, invested in thestores, and shopped in the stores.


"At that first Bentonville store I was part of the shrinkage [unaccounted-for inventory losses usuallycaused by theft]. If I needed something, I just got it and took it home with me. I didn't even think aboutpaying for it. It wasn't good business at all. I mean, people would see me picking up things and theyprobably thought, well, I'll pick up some too. I remember it was difficult for me when we went into theWal-Mart business from the Five and Dime. I had to start paying for things, and it was a real shock.

"Also, at Christmastime, we would get a list from the welfare office of some children who weren't goingto have Santa Claus. We'd get the ages and sizes and that sort of thing. I remember one night we tookour children into the store after it was closed and gave them that list and told them to go around and pickout things for them because we wanted them to have some sense of what was going on outside ourprivileged little family. It was a small town, and we were a real small-town kind of operation."One thing I never didwhich I'm really proud of was to push any of my kids too hard. I knew I was afairly overactive fellow, and I didn't expect them to try to be just like me. Also, I let them know theywere welcome to come into our business, but that they would have to work as hard as I didthey wouldhave to commit to being merchants. Rob went to law school and became our first company lawyer. Hedid most of the work to take us public, and has been involved with the senior management of thecompany ever sinceas an officer and board member.

Jim learned a lot about real estateand the art of negotiationfrom his uncle Bud. After Bud sort ofstepped back from his involvement with locating and buying store sites, Jim took over. He was reallygood at it, and they still tell stories about him flying into some small town, unfolding his bicycle, andpedaling around looking for a good site. He never told anybody who he was, and he got some greatdeals. Now he's running Walton Enterprises, the family partnership, and I think he's almost as tight with adollar as I am.

Among other things, Walton Enterprises owns banks in several towns around here. Jim and a partnerown the local newspaper, theDaily Record. The story of buying theRecord shows just how far we'vecome from those days when Helen could just sashay through the store and pick up what she wantedapractice, by the way, that I always frowned on. Back before we went public with Wal-Mart, I bought thenewspaper figuring that we would have a cheap place to print our circulars. I think I only paid $65,000for that old paper. When we went public, though, some New York lawyers came down and told us wehad to sell the paper to Wal-Mart because otherwise we would be taking advantage of the publiccompany if we continued to print the circulars. So we sold it to Wal-Mart at cost, about $110,000 bythen. Well, years later, Jim decides he wants to buy the paper. So we had an outside consultant come inand tell Wal-Mart what it was worth. Jim and his partner paid $1.1 million for that darned paper. It'sbeen marginally profitable at best, and it quit printing Wal-Mart circulars years ago. The point I'm tryingto make is that we as a family have bent over backward not to take advantage of Wal-Mart, not to pressour ownership position unfairly, and everybody in the company knows it.

Alice and John worked for a little while at Wal-Mart, but have both branched out into independentbusinesses of their own. Alice tried her hand as a buyer, but didn't care for it too much, and now she'sgot her own investment company, The Llama Company, down in Fayetteville. In some ways, I believeshe's the most like mea maverickbut even more volatile than I am. John, who was a Green Beret medicin Vietnam, became our second company pilotI was the first. He's the most independent of the bunchand the only one who doesn't live here in Arkansas, and he's a tremendous individual. He and his familylive out West, where he designs and builds sailboats, and he also runs a large crop-dusting business,which is owned by Walton Enterprises. We're all pilots, so it's real easy for us to get together on amoment's notice.


"One way in which Sam and my dad were really different. My dad was always talking to me about howI should live, how I should work, and challenging me to do this and that. I don't know that Sam did thatvery much with our children. I probably did it, and they got enough from me. He probably saw that andkept his mouth shut."ALICE WALTON:

"When we were growing up, Dad was really very accepting. If you made A's and B's, Mother was theone who would press us with, 'I made all A's, and I know you can do it.' Dad was more, well, This iswhat I made. A's and B's are pretty good.'"JOHN WALTON:

"I remember asking Dad for permission to climb a bluff overlooking the Buffalo River. He said, 'Doanything you're big enough to do.' What an exhilarating challenge of judgment and confidence booster fora twelve-year-old. Later, when I was a young man trying to find my way in the world, he gave me anopen invitation to join the Wal-Mart team, but never a hint of pressure. What a wonderful way to growup."Now, as I said, one of the reasons I fell for Helen in the first place was that she was her ownwomanand she has not proved a disappointment in that category. For example, one of the things I'mfamous for around our company is absolutely insisting that all our executives and managers here inBentonville attend our Saturday morning meeting. One of the reasons I like it is that if all our folks outthere in the stores have to work on Saturday, I think those of us back here in the general office shouldshow up on Saturday too. Plus, as I've said, if you don't want to work weekends, you shouldn't be inretail.

But Helen will tell anybody who asks her what she thinks of the Saturday morning meeting.


"I think it is a shame that a lot of those fathers and mothers who have children involved in things likeathletic programs can't be there to support them because they have to go to the Saturday morningmeeting. I don't blame people at all for complaining about them."As a merchant, I've always tried to stay fairly neutral publicly on controversial political issues, eventhough I obviously have opinions, but Helen is one who's going to answer bluntly about what she believesin if questioned. Really, she's a bit of a feminist, I think, not unlike my mother. And I guess we've caught alittle heat from time to time. Some of her causes aren't all that popular with some of these fairly extremegroups. But I'll tell you this: she doesn't ask me what she should think, and I'd be the last person on earthto try to tell her. We had one really ugly fight in our marriageearly onover what kind of car to buy. Iwas a Chevy man, and she was from a Ford family. Nobody won that one, but we both learned howstubborn we could be, and we haven't gotten into anything like that since. We have been happy together,but we've stayed independent to pursue our own interests as well.

One big strain on the family that I've already talked about was this whole richest man in Americabusiness. I don't know if Helen ever really forgave me for putting us in the position to be dragged intothat.


"What I hate is being the object of curiosity. People are so curious about everything, and so we are justpublic conversation. The whole thing still makes me mad when I think about it. I mean, I hate it."Helen's right, of course, but I think we've mostly come to terms with all the commotion caused by ourunwillingly becoming a semipublic family. And we've enjoyed a few of the things it's enabled us to do.

Our kids just shrug it off. I don't think it has affected our kids too much because it all happened graduallyto them, and they were raised so basically, with good fundamental values.

I do admit to worrying sometimes about future generations of the Waltons. I know it's unrealistic of meto expect them all to get up and throw paper routes, and I know it's something I can't control. But I'dhate to see any descendants of mine fall into the category of what I'd call "idle rich"a group I've neverhad much use for. I really hope that somehow the values both Helen and I, and our kids, have alwaysembraced can be passed on down through the generations. And even if these little future Waltons don'tfeel the need to work from dawn on into the night to stay ahead of the bill collector, I hope they'll feelcompelled to do something productive and useful and challenging with their lives. Maybe it's time for aWalton to start thinking about going into medical research and working on cures for cancer, or figuringout new ways to bring culture and education to the underprivileged, or becoming missionaries for freeenterprise in the Third World. Or maybeand this is strictly my ideathere's another Walton merchantlurking in the wings somewhere down the line.


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