“I still can’t believe it was news that I get my hair cut at the barbershop. Where else would I get it cut?”
To me, that quote sums up Sam Walton’s autobiography. He was referring to a Forbes article that came out after he was named the richest man in the world. Forbes asked to come to his hometown to follow him around for a few days. Even though he allowed them to, it was a decision he regretted the rest of his life. He was a small-town country boy who hated the attention and that friends and strangers made a big deal out of his wealth for the rest of his life. Truth is, Sam never felt as wealthy as his net worth would suggest. He lived off a modest salary and Wal-Mart dividends, drove a pickup truck his entire life, and yes, continued to get his hair cut at a barber, which the rest of the world was apparently amazed by.
I have a lot of respect for people who are incredibly successful, yet remain humble. I’m sure it’s easy to let it all go to your head. His entire career, Sam was infamous throughout the corporation for how often he visited stores. I don’t know how many CEOs of multi-billion dollar companies do things like that, but I bet it’s not many. Sam loved the store-level part of the business and that never changed, even as his role evolved from manager of the first store to CEO of a global behemoth. Even towards the end of his life in his 70s, he was still out visiting stores on a regular basis. His wife and kids joke that all their family vacations involved visiting Wal-Marts and their competitors. Sam claimed he went in more K-Marts than anyone in the world. Given he never worked at K-Mart, that’s pretty damn impressive (who knows if it’s totally factual though). In addition to money never changing him, there were a few other notable characteristics that really stood out to me.
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