The Business Roundtable, the group representing corporate America’s interest in Washington, has a new chairman – Walmart CEO Doug McMillon. The appointment of McMillon comes at a seminal time for both Business Roundtable and Walmart, the country’s largest retailer and private employer. Last month, Business Roundtable said that America’s corporations are responsible for improving society by serving all stakeholders ethically, morally and fairly.
- Given McMillon’s progressive, action-oriented style, what should CEOs expect from him? More importantly, what should stakeholders expect?
- How can McMillon add credibility and depth to the new stakeholder focus of the Business Roundtable?
- Is McMillon the archetype of a new-age CEO? What specific leadership characteristics do you want to see from McMillon in this role?
- Walmart, with 2.1 million employees around the world, is immersed in many of the policy issues facing the BRT — from trade and taxation to automation and health care.
- McMillon maintains an active Instagram feed, populated with pictures from his visits to stores around the world. He’s also improved employee wages and benefits and overhauled Walmart’s board of directors, bringing in more women and minorities.
- McMillon was an early leader within Walmart on driving sustainability and has promised to remove a billion metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions from Walmart’s supply chain by 2030.
Recently, the Walmart chief executive announced the retailer would stop selling e-cigarettes in its more than 5,300 US locations, displaying a tendency toward action that the company has typically lacked. The announcement supports the emerging narrative that Walmart’s 52-year-old CEO is unafraid to take stands on national hot-button issues.
McMillon has already limited ammunition sales in the wake of two deadly shootings at Walmart stores, criticized President Donald Trump’s post-Charlottesville remarks, pledged environmentally-friendly changes to its supply chain and called for Congress to boost the minimum wage.
A native of Walmart’s home state of Arkansas who started working at one of the retailer’s warehouses as a teenager, McMillon is not a typical corporate crusader. But he is representative of a younger generation of business leaders who are more woke than their timid predecessors in the executive suite.
His ascension to the leadership of the Business Roundtable positions McMillon as the public face of big business, heading a Washington-based group of about 200 CEOs at companies such as AT&T and General Motors. He begins his two-year term in January.
Business Roundtable’s new mantra provides McMillon with institutional backing to be a more vocal spokesman on issues such as tariffs, which have a direct impact on Walmart. The retailer has said that it may have to hike prices on some goods to offset the impact of the tariffs, but so far, McMillon has stopped short of directly rebuking Trump’s policy. Another topic he may tackle head-on is immigration, given Walmart’s status as the nation’s biggest private employer.
“In the coming months, there will be extensive conversations about America’s future and the role business plays in shaping it,” McMillon said referring to the 2020 election. He committed to “keeping Business Roundtable CEOs at the forefront of constructive public policy debates.”