Remarkable Retail

Going Global with Judith McKenna, President & CEO, Walmart International

Episode Summary

Joining us for the first of several episodes recorded at the Wizeline remote podcast studio/beach cabana at Mandalay Bay during Shoptalk is Judith McKenna, who heads up Walmart International. We touch on Judith's journey across the pond to lead Walmart's $100 billion plus division, which operates across 19 countries, before jumping into the challenges and opportunities of executing the Walmart brand promise and purpose while staying attuned to diverse market needs ("strong local businesses powered by Walmart").

Episode Notes

Joining us for the first of several episodes recorded at the Wizeline remote podcast studio/beach cabana at Mandalay Bay during Shoptalk is Judith McKenna, who heads up Walmart International.

We touch on Judith's journey across the pond to lead Walmart's $100 billion plus division, which operates across 19 countries, before jumping into the challenges and opportunities of executing the Walmart brand promise and purpose while staying attuned to diverse market needs ("strong local businesses powered by Walmart"). Judith shares her perspectives on the importance of strategic alignment, sustaining a culture of innovation, and the emerging role of personalization in driving growth. We close with Judith's take on how to navigate the volatile future of retail and some of her key leadership tips.

We start as usual with a review of the week in retail news, including how a revision in the jobless claims numbers suggests a cooling job market, RH's recent (mostly) disappointing earnings release, and Costco's first negative monthly comparable sales report in three years. Then we dissect encouraging news from Walmart before a quick return to the Wobbly Unicorn Corner with word of a bankruptcy filing from Boxed and Chewy's decision to close two fulfillment centers. We wrap up with Bed, Bath & Beyond's continuing financing gymnastics, which don't seem to bode well for their future. 

We also give a quick shout-out to friend of the pod, Seth Godin, who releases his latest book, The Song of Significance: A New Manifesto for Teams, next month. You can learn more and find links to pre-order here.

World Retail Congress Offer: Select Guest, and use offer code WRCRR20 for 20% off your Retailer Pass.

About Judith

Judith McKenna is president and CEO of Walmart International where she is responsible for all aspects of Walmart’s footprint outside the U.S., leading a team of 550,000 associates across 23 countries. Judith is transforming the shape of the international portfolio while expanding eCommerce and omnichannel offerings, leveraging innovations from across international markets to build strong local businesses that are powered by Walmart, and working to make lives easier by creating a global culture that puts the customer at the center of everything.

Prior to leading Walmart International, Judith was executive vice president and chief operating officer for Walmart U.S. During that time she led the rollout of online grocery to the U.S. by leveraging best practices from her time in the U.K. Before that, she served as executive vice president of strategy and development for Walmart International, chief operating officer for Asda Stores Ltd. in her native U.K, and as Asda’s chief financial officer for more than a decade.

In addition to leading the business, Judith has a lifelong passion for developing people at all levels and creating opportunities for learning. She’s the daughter of two teachers and is an advocate for associate training and education. She was also the architect behind the introduction of Walmart Academies to the U.S.

Judith is a board member of Walmex in Mexico, Flipkart and PhonePe in India, as well as the Walton Arts Center. She also appears on Fortune’s list of Most Powerful Women in Business and Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Powerful Women. Judith graduated with a law degree from University of Hull in England before earning her Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales accounting qualification at KPMG and was awarded an honorary doctorate in law from University of Hull.

Episode Transcription

MIchael LeBlanc  00:06

Welcome to the Remarkable Retail podcast, Season 6, Episode 13. Presented by Market Dial. I'm Michael Leblanc.

Steve Dennis  00:12

And I'm Steve Dennis.

Michael LeBlanc  00:14

In this episode we're kicking off a series of fantastic interviews conducted at Shop Talk in Las Vegas in the Wise Line Podcasting Studio, aka our modified beach cabana at Mandalay Bay and our first guest is Judith McKenna, President and CEO, Walmart International.

Steve Dennis  00:29

Yeah, it was, it was a lot of fun to record, Judith, it was a little bit chilly. I think we mentioned that in the interview. Try to, wasn't exactly beach weather, but it was a lot of fun. And she is such a fascinating person, and she runs us to a little, little corner of Walmart just like when $100 billion or so I think so. 

Michael LeBlanc  00:48

Yeah, what was it, 19 countries or something, you know, it's just, it's a really fascinating interview because I just, to experience someone who's got that kind of breadth, not just the number of people or a number of stores, but just the you know, each market is different. So different, right. So it's very, very impressive, a very impressive person and, and a great interview and speaking of great interviews, I'm sure everyone listening will enjoy your interview on the NRF's Retail Gets Real podcasts. They don't actually often interview folks like yourself. Usually, they're standing C level executives. So

Judith McKenna  01:16

Folks like myself, what does that mean?

Michael LeBlanc  01:22

Well, not sitting retailers. Usually,

Steve Dennis  01:24

Ah, ah recovering, recovering retailer.

Michael LeBlanc  01:29

Exactly. Listen, host Bill Thorne. I've met Bill a bunch of times. He does a great job in the podcast. Did you enjoy your experience on the other side of the mic?

Steve Dennis  01:37

Yeah, it was. It was fun. Yeah, Bill's, Bill's, a good guy and we actually were going to record that live at NRF. And that didn't quite work out. So, we did the old, the way we do most of our interviews. I can't say the old-fashioned way, but the, the remote way and yeah, it was good conversation. It was fun.

Michael LeBlanc  01:55

Last chance for anybody, you might still be on the fence about joining us in Barcelona at the World Retail Congress, get yourself a nice discount with our offer code in the show notes. We've got some interviews lined up for that. So we'll bring a little bit of that insight back with us. Now, for those of us, we were talking about this in Las Vegas. A lot more people are traveling these days, spending a bunch of hours on airplanes including myself. Any suggestions for reading material between episodes of succession, any, any ideas?

Steve Dennis  02:20

Well, I'm going to be a hype man for my buddy Seth Godin. He's got a book coming out in just a few weeks, called the Song of Significance and it's about the future of work and leading teams and I was able to get a preview copy of it and I think it's kind of typical Seth, breezy style, very much to the point, very thought provoking, and a pretty, a pretty quick read. So, if folks want to go out and preorder that I'm sure Seth would appreciate it and I think they'll, they'll find it very inspiring, you know, some good ideas in there for leadership.

Michael LeBlanc  02:56

Yeah, Seth's been generous enough to be on the podcast a couple times, we'll put a link in the show notes where you can order, get your, get in line for a copy coming out to, when, when is it coming out, summer, is it mid-summer?

Steve Dennis  03:08

May 30, I believe last, last or whatever, the last Tuesday in May is. 

Michael LeBlanc  03:11

All right, well, let's get into the news. I noticed that revised US jobless claim numbers may be painting a shifting picture, you know, one month doesn't make a trend, necessarily. What did you think about the numbers that came in?

Steve Dennis  03:24

So we've talked about the strong job market quite a bit on the podcast. We've also talked about how across the last several months, there have been a number of very large firms that have done pretty sizable layoffs, including companies like Amazon, and yet the jobless claims number has been flat, or has been going down and that didn't quite line up, the thought, though, was that well, there are many more new jobs being created and that's just sort of absorbing these, these layoffs. 

Steve Dennis 03:52

Well, it turns out that the Bureau of Labor Statistics here in the US redid their numbers, because the way they were seasonally, I don't want to get too in the weeds on this, but as I understand it, the way they were seasonally adjusting the number was actually not right, so they went back and we looked at it and that's actually shown that the jobless claims numbers have actually been going up, not a lot, but this, this idea that the trend was either down or pretty much flat. It's now looking like that actually, the jobless claims are creeping up, so that was some of the other data that we've just seen, makes, makes it look like maybe things are, the job markets not quite as robust as it's appeared to have been the last few months.

Michael LeBlanc  04:36

Let's talk about one of our favorite retailers, RH, they put their earnings out and a bit of a slowdown for sure, but it's a well run business. What did you make out of what they had to say?

Steve Dennis  04:48

Well, yeah, it was kind of a mixed picture. As we've talked about a bunch of times the home categories been, been pretty challenging the last year or so largely because of the pull forward in demand, due to COVID, but also just in general, kind of the slowdown in, in the home market. So, RH did show a sales decline, a pretty healthy sales decline, I think was about 14%. You know, which is a pretty, pretty large decrease. What was interesting was that they still have really great profitability. Their operating margins are like 22%, which I don't hear many companies have those kinds of operating margins. Now that is down from a year ago, but still quite robust. 

Steve Dennis  05:35

So if people are curious, I would go read Gary Friedman, the CEO, and really visionary behind the new strategies, management discussion, because it's pretty, it's pretty entertaining. Gary's not a shy guy and he's a little bit, a little bit ranty, but, but the good news for them going forward is they're continuing to pursue opening new galleries, those are the bigger stores, opening more of these design studios, which are smaller formats for smaller markets, they're still investing behind their hotels and restaurants and so they're absolutely still full speed ahead, as far as I can tell, in terms of their expansion strategy, which is pretty heavy, or starting to be pretty heavily tilted towards Europe, where they'll be opening a bunch of locations across the next couple years.

Michael LeBlanc  06:26

Well, you know, my experience of that brand is less about shopping then, in a conventional sense, and more about their platform. I, you know, when I was in New York, I love their RH guest house, not to stay there on this occasion, but I went there for breakfast a couple times. Fantastic. 

Michael LeBlanc  06:39

Let's talk about Costco. So, they've been on a tear, talk about defying gravity, they've been on a tear for, for years. I mean, they, they are a, an immense retailer, they actually knocked out the LCBO in Ontario as the number one wine cellar in the world. Talk about what you see from their, from their numbers. 

Steve Dennis  06:56

Well, one of the things that Costco does, this isn't actually an earnings report. It's, they do these periodic sales reports and for the first time, and I believe it's three years, they had a monthly comp store sales decrease and, you know, not only what you're saying about how they've performed so well, historically, they're also huge, the third biggest retailer on the planet, didn't quite realize that had gotten to being that big. So, they've been, I think, also viewed as a bit, you know, of an essentials kind of retailer, you could argue they've benefited from the COVID period as more people were not eating out and you know, these kinds of things. So, the fact that they are starting to see a slowdown, and now it's only one month, you know, it really kind of spooked Wall Street in particular and it's just kind of part of this narrative. We've got some other data points in addition to the jobless claim. numbers that make it sound like okay, yeah, we're really starting to see much, much more tangible slowdown, particularly in these more essential retailers, which is not where we've seen any weakness really, in the past year or two.

Michael LeBlanc  08:06

Speaking of essential retailers, let's talk about Walmart, here in the United States versus International. They've put out some, a bunch of announcements this week actually covering a bunch of things. What, what did you make of all the different things that they had to say?

Steve Dennis  08:20

It is a coincidence that we've got much of Walmart news with, with, with a great Walmart executive coming on, but yeah, they had, I guess, four things that were kind of interesting this year. The big one, I thought, from the, their investor week, or their, sorry, their investor day, I guess you'd call it, conference was, they announced, and this is hard to get my head around. They believe they're going to be able to add $130 billion in incremental sales over the next five years.

Michael LeBlanc  08:52

Increment on top of what they are already doing, right?

Steve Dennis  08:54

Right. So that is, I think, I believe Target's annual sales, total annual sales number is just under that. So it's like adding on a target. Plus, over the next five years, and when you think about how mature, seemingly, mature and vast a business Walmart already is, that's pretty phenomenal. So, I that, that's just kind of mind blowing. They also, this is a little bit more tactical, but I think interesting is they also very recently revamped their website and it's a much cleaner layout and I think it really stands in stark contrast to Amazon's website, which to me is just unnecessarily cluttered. It's actually more similar to the look and feel of the target site and it just really presents a contrast between somebody who obviously has a vast assortment, you know, they're in all sorts of categories. They have a very big marketplace, but presenting it I think, in a much more user-friendly way. So, it'll be interesting. I still think that at some point Amazon is really, they got to take on their, their site design and navigation because I think it's really gotten almost unstoppable at this point. 

Steve Dennis  10:07

And then part of their investor day discussion was a lot of the investments they're making in automation and new technology, they've got a very aggressive, as one might imagine, they've got a very aggressive capital plan for technology, but the particular focus was on automation and one of the things they said is that 60-, I'm not sure exactly what this means, but that 65% of their stores will have a large automation component within the next few years and that 50% of their ecommerce orders will be fully automated, you know, basically, a human being won't be touching the order as it goes through that, that whole process. So I think some of this would happen anyway, but I imagine a lot of this is being driven by some of the labor challenges and just advancement in robotics and, and things like that and then the last thing was, and you flag the story about there, I had missed this, about how they're planning to, or, to have EV charging stations added to 1000s of their locations across the last few years. So, I think that's pretty interesting to see a big retailer really get much more fully behind the EV movement.

Michael LeBlanc  11:20

Yeah, for sure. Firing and all cylinders. So, let's, let's move to the other end of the spectrum. 

Michael LeBlanc  11:27

Let's, let's, let's pay a visit to the, the wobble unicorn corner where we have some, some breaking news from one of these spax, whatever that means. I don't really know what that means, but I know what bankruptcy means. So what, what's, what's on your mind?

Steve Dennis  11:42

Yeah, well, I think we flagged this as something that was likely to happen, so boxed, which is a pretty well funded, not-so-startup anymore, but they were in the business of basically providing essentials, you know, health and beauty aids and products like that. They've had many quarters of decent sales growth, but very poor profits, kind of the story that we've been talking about for a while, and they actually.

Michael LeBlanc  12:07

In a Pure Play, in a Pure Play way, in a Pure Play way.

Steve Dennis  12:10

In a Pure Play way and, yes, so unfortunately, they filed for bankruptcy. So we will see whether they are able to get out from, from that, you know, I think what's tough about a bankruptcy filing for their sort of retail is it's not like they're, say doing what, what's probably pretty likely to happen with Bed Bath and Beyond here in the next couple of weeks. It's not like they're trying to get out of all these leases. You know, it's really, I imagine, to get out of a lot of debt. You know, they have fulfillment facilities and things like that, but I think it's a little, a little trickier when you've been hemorrhaging cash, to the degree that they have been for the last couple of years to see how they come out largely intact, but we shall see. 

Steve Dennis  12:54

And then not nearly as dire news, but kind of a similar business model in a way, which is in the pet business but, but also a Pure Play. They are closing a couple of fulfillment centers and now they are not performing amazingly well, but they've been growing nicely they've more or less broken even over the last few quarters, so not strong profitability but not losing money the way some of these other brands that we've talked about have but I imagine that you know, there's a lot of, you know, they may be seeing signs of a slowdown and they're really trying to manage their profitability, we've seen quite a lot of, I mean even Walmart has done some push ba-, or pull backs in their fulfillment operations just as kind of e-commerce which is like a reset of the amount of, of fulfillment capacity essentially that's, that's necessary. A lot of people invested kind of ahead of the curve there and it turns out that volume doesn't look like it's going to be there anytime soon.

Michael LeBlanc  13:50

You mentioned Bed Bath and Beyond. I was, I was struck reading the news about, what, they're doing all kinds of financial gymnastics that are pretty impressive. I wish they were the that creative around their merchandising strategy is around the pre-bankruptcy financing because every, every week, there's a wow, we've got a new deal for our accounts receivable, and we got we're going reverse stock pulls and 

Steve Dennis  14:11


Michael LeBlanc  14:12

What do you think about all this?

Steve Dennis  14:14

Well, I, you know, I didn't understand. I think if people go back, or they might recall we've talked about Bed Bath and Beyond financing multiple times here when they first did the deal to stay out of bankruptcy the billion dollar thing with Hudson Bay capital. I didn't understand that at all and it turns out that fell apart. 

Michael LeBlanc  14:32

Nobody else did either. 

Michael LeBlanc  14:32

That's right. 

Steve Dennis  14:32

Yeah, apparently nobody else understood it as well. Yeah, they're, I mean, they're just holding on for dear life here and trying different things to get enough cash to operate the business. I think it was last week or the week before where we talked about how their sales were down 40 to 50%. over last year, I mean, it's just hard to imagine, you know, how, how you keep a business going with, with that kind of deceleration and then on top of that, of course, you know, one of The big problems when there are rumors of bankruptcy, is that all your vendors get freaked out.

Steve Dennis  14:39

And they don't want to ship unless they get paid in cash and so it just makes a very difficult situation even more challenging, so they, you know, they've got a great brand in a lot of respects, they have a unique position in terms of being kind of this category killer for the mix of goods that they have. So I think there is a space in the market in theory, but whether they'll be able to navigate through these choppy waters when, you know, it's like, What's the expression of catching a falling knife, I think you'd say, 

Michael LeBlanc  15:34

Yeah, yeah. 

Steve Dennis  15:35

It's, it's pretty, it's pretty tough and, you know, obviously, the economy doesn't, you know, it's not like your, it looks like a booming economy. So it's a very tough, I think, a very tough environment to raise money in.

Michael LeBlanc  15:45

Now just before we get to our great interview with Judith McKenna from Walmart, quick shout out as kids would say, to Judith, both Judith and Amy, who helped us arrange for the interview for their patience and being open to the experience of a different location for a podcasting studio by the beach in Mandalay Bay and for the listeners, instead of hearing the usual kind of buzz, buzz background, you might hear from some of our other show podcasts, you'll hear a bit of music in the background. So that's because we were on the beach, enjoying some of the sun and not so warm weather, but it was, it was so great. So let's get to that right after hearing from our presenting sponsor. 

Michael LeBlanc  16:23

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Steve Dennis  17:11

Judith, welcome to the Remarkable Retail podcast. We're here on a chilly day by the beach. So, we're gonna try to persevere through this, but thanks for joining us. 

Judith McKenna  17:20

Steve, I'm delighted to be here. Thank you for the invite. 

Steve Dennis  17:23

Well, we're delighted to have you. So, we generally like to start out by having our guests tell us a bit about who they are, their professional journey, what their current roles and responsibilities are, which for you is quite vast. So, they get a little bit of extra time, but yeah, just tell us a little bit about who you are.

Judith McKenna  17:40

Yeah, I'd be delighted to do so I am, I'm Brit. I started as an accountant back in the UK, chartered accountant made my way through an accounting firm, KPMG and then went into the pub and brewing industry, which was a little different, after a few years there, I found myself at ASDA, which was a UK retailer, which was a public company at the time in finance, and I made my way through finance and one day Walmart came along and bought ASDA, and that's how I joined the Walmart family and 27 years as part of as part of Walmart, now. So, I winded my career through to become CFO, there for 10 years, and ultimately, then became the Chief Operating Officer. So, a bit of a career change, to go with that as well and then 10 years ago, the then head of international a guy called Doug McMillon said to me, why don't you come.

Steve Dennis  18:37

Heard about you with his word, that name, yeah.

Judith McKenna  18:39

He's a good guy and he said, why not come to America and I was like, you know what, okay and my family, I have two kids and my husband, we thought we'll go on an adventure. So, we did and I became the head of strategy for Walmart International 10 years ago, and then moved into the US business to do this little job to do with neighborhood markets, which were small stores, they were big stores to me in the UK. And then I look after the intersection of digital and physical. To get a very long story short, I then found myself as the Chief Operate-, Chief Operating Officer for Walmart US. so, 1.4 million people as a duty of care too and 4500 stores, which is quite the most privileged to be able to do that. It's a remarkable job and then, five years ago, I moved into this role. So, I now head up Walmart International. We operate in 19 countries around the world. We have 550,000 associates, and we have seven primary businesses that we operate, so just over $100 billion business in its own right so that keeps me out of mischief and its a huge amount of fun to do.

Steve Dennis  19:47

Well, just as an aside, I don't know, you probably wouldn't know this, but my business school classmate is now running the neighborhood business, Calvin so

Judith McKenna  19:55

He's doing a fantastic job. I have to tell you.

Steve Dennis  19:58

He's a great guy, we reconnected after, like, not having talked to each other for like 25 years.

Judith McKenna  20:02

Oh how cool is that, retail is such a small world, like globally. It's incredible.

Steve Dennis  20:06

Yeah, but, so just how do you go about and this could be a whole podcast, but just dealing with not only the size of the business, but the diversity, all the different countries you operate in. I can't I mean, just the scale and scope and complexity of that seems enormous. Can you give us any sense for how you've approached that, and the kinds of things you've learned in the role all this time.

Judith McKenna  20:29

So, the primary thing is to have brilliant teams everywhere.

Steve Dennis  20:31


Judith McKenna  20:32

That, that is the heart of being able to run an international business, because at the end of the day, you're not there and it's not like an operating business that you've got hands on every day of the week.

Steve Dennis  20:41


Judith McKenna  20:42

So, the quality of the teams that we have around the world, the experience of those teams is huge. I also spend a lot of time trying to understand the markets in which we operate, not just our businesses, but the markets in which we operate. So, the political environments, the social environments, the economic environments, how that intersects what trade they do with other countries. So, you build up a picture of the customer there, as well and there's this really clear fact to me, which is customers are more alike around the world than they are different and once you understand that, then sometimes managing that sort of scale becomes easier. So great teams have a natural curiosity about each market in which we operate and how they fit into the world and their customers. And then the third thing is just a really clear strategy.

Steve Dennis  21:29


Judith McKenna  21:29

So, we have a very simple align strategy, which is strong local businesses, powered by Walmart, we're not trying to be identical everywhere. We're trying to be local where we need to be but only kind of different where we absolutely have to be. So, that combination, and that strategy gives you the flexibility to be able to deal with whatever may come your way, which has been quite a lot over the last few years.

Steve Dennis  21:54

I've heard something about that. You know, it's interesting, because I, yes, I assume that the Walmart busin-, the fundamental Walmart business model ethos is consistent, but it has to adapt to some local circumstances. Are there any particular things that have either been particularly difficult to execute or maybe surprises that you've learned to say, 'well, actually, this is something for, our audience, they might be able, if they operate in different countries, they might be able to take to their own business'.

Judith McKenna  22:21

Yeah, so, so you're exactly right. Well, we're common is our purpose, we save people money so they can live better, which is kind of our strategy in some ways, as well. We are very clear about what we will do everyday low prices, and everyday low cost that is applicable around the world. So these things that we have everywhere, resonate with customers. So, the least surprising thing is this point about customers and how you can serve customers, they want trust, they want access, they want value. So, we focus very clearly on some of those kinds of areas. 

Judith McKenna  22:56

What surprised me, maybe, it was really interesting during the pandemic, so we brought online grocery from the UK, we started it in the US and we had it in a couple of markets around the world, but it was really quite nascent as the pandemic hit and we had to step everything up the speed with which because we had a blueprint for how to do it, we could execute it around the world. In fact, there's a great story in Central America who, I think we had, like on the roadmap, like five years’ time to start to do this. They stood it up in two weeks,

Michael LeBlanc  23:30

The great acceleration, as our friend Carl Boutet, would say. 

Judith McKenna  23:33

That's a great way to think about it and I just wish I could bottle some of that capability that we experienced then, which is nothing is impossible and there are ways to do it, but that common blueprint for doing things, you tailor it, you have the nuances for the local customer and what that looks like but actually, it lets you execute at scale, which is really what we're all about. 

Steve Dennis  23:54

I'll bring Michael in in a second, but this is a question I've asked several folks on the podcast over the last couple of years. It's this idea that, you know, why does it take a crisis for retailers to innovate, and so, on the one hand, I love that, that so many organizations took the plunge and discovered that not everything has to be perfect or not everything has to take two or three years, but does that bug you at all that, that, you know, creating, it's one thing to have that urgency, because you're starting in the face of a crisis, or you're, you know, just situations force you to take action, but at the same time, there's lots of really good ideas that could have been implemented earlier. I'm not saying in your particular case, but, but is that, I'm not sure what my question is, exactly, but does that tension strike you?

Judith McKenna  24:38

I know, exactly what you mean, which is, why does it take something like that to do some of the things we do, and I think it's because it's inevitable because we all have roadmaps, we all have strategies. The world around us moves at a certain pace. What creates that change is the world changes. It's not just we change, we react didn't adapt to the world and I think that part of it is something that we're continuing to refine how we, how we do it. I think the thing that I saw most, and I don't know how your other guests found this, which is the silos within the organization, were falling down and people learned to work collaboratively and together in ways that in my ner- years in retail, I hadn't really seen happen in that way. What I'm excited about is I'm seeing some of that learning stay in. 

Steve Dennis  25:30

Well, that was yeah, that's kind of my follow-on question is, can you bottle that and rinse and repeat?

Michael LeBlanc  25:34

Because everyone had, I mean, the one thing about the COVID years, there was a unifying mission, you know, we're going to take care of our people, we're going to get through it. Everyone could agree on that and, you know, let's hope we don't have another unifying mission like that, but kind of manufacturing that kind of same momentum, right, I think it must occupy your time.

Judith McKenna  25:53

It does, but I think we already had a good foundation in having the same mission everywhere, like this is a purpose driven company and you've been around long enough to know that we truly have that at the heart of what we do is saving people money so they can live better. So that was already there. It was just in what priority or do you do some of the things that you do, the piece for me that changed was powered by Walmart, strong local businesses, I think we'd got there, but they're powered by Walmart was still a bit of a push and pull and what happened was, everybody said, 'no, no, no, no, no, I suddenly see what the benefit of being global is, and how I can leverage that' and that, I'm so fortunate that, that has stayed with people, because we showed what that benefit looks like.

Michael LeBlanc  26:40

Well, you're here at Shop Talk in in Las Vegas, you're gonna be on the stage with our friend, Phil, fellow Canadian from Fortune, what are you going to be, what kind of knowledge are you gonna-

Steve Dennis  26:49

Never misses an opportunity to mention other Canadians.

Michael LeBlanc  26:53

Yeah, it's never, never missed that opportunity, Member of the Commonwealth, fellow member of the Commonwealth.

Michael LeBlanc  26:57

Yeah, yeah. You know, you've been not to drop Canada again, but you, your business has been remarkably successful in Canada, and I understand you're doing some investments in Mexico. So, talk about that, how you're kind of leveraging, leveraging that ethos in Mexico?

Judith McKenna  26:57

I, we've already talked about this. Yeah, I am, we're going to talk a little bit about the future of retail innovation around the world, what this global platform that we have is allowing us to see. So, this should be some exciting topics in there to chat through. So, I'm excited about it is, it is one of those periods of time, now we're back out on the road again, and where we get to see not only our own retail, but other retailers as well and see what's going on. So hopefully, we're gonna touch on some of those things and I think still this question of how do you run a global retailer. 

Judith McKenna  27:43

Yeah, so I was in Canada recently, actually, the business is going great there. So, Mexico is just an incredible market, it's a publicly listed company Walmex, it operates across Mexico and Central America, they have about 3700 stores, which gives them a reach in Mexico itself of about 88% of the population within 10 minutes of a store and one of the things that I really like about what they're doing is they're so customer centric, like the customer and finding solutions to the customers pain points are at the heart of everything that they do, which just means that they have the bricks and mortar stores. They've built that into e-commerce, both first party commerce and marketplace, as well as pickup on demand for groceries in stores and they're now starting to build out on verticals of new businesses, which serve customers and help find them solutions for the problems in their lives.

Judith McKenna  28:38

So think about a payments App Cache, it's got well over 5 million users already and it allows people to pay securely and safely in store and perhaps get credit if they need it using the same process. You've then got a really interesting one, which is the business in Mexico set out to try to figure out how to get more people shopping online and they realized they were actually solving the wrong problem, because customers couldn't get online.

Michael LeBlanc  29:09

To begin with.

Judith McKenna  29:10

To begin with, let alone to shop, their issue was access to data. So, they introduced a product which we called Bite, which is an internet and telecom business. It now has over 5 million kinds of active users in that as well and they're doing a remarkable job of joining those pieces together. So, it started as a how do I get you to shop online, it moved to how do I just get your data to be online and they have one of the largest MVMOs in Mexico now as well. So, this is a great business, it's got a growing economy, Mexico has got 130 million people and the average age is under 30. So, the growth potential, so we got a great business which-

Michael LeBlanc  29:50

Which is not true of a lot of nations around the world, right. Some are struggling with the aging population or declining population growth, right. So it is, it is a great opportunity to develop. 

Judith McKenna  29:59

And we're fortunate, after the restrictions of international, we did over the last few years, that we've actually centered our businesses, pretty much where we can see that there's future growth, both the natural momentum of those markets and of our businesses as well.

Steve Dennis  30:13

So Judith, can we talk a little bit about the role of innovation? I'm curious, both how innovation gets up, you know, what's the process, how you think through bringing innovation and I'm also interested in given the scope you have what's going on in other markets, other innovative markets or are there countries where you're seeing innovation, that our audience is mostly North America, we are fortunate to have people in lots of other countries, but maybe countries that other retailers, other members or audiences be paying more attention to because of things that are happening? 

Judith McKenna  30:46

Yeah, it's the process of innovation. I always smile at that one, I'm sure everybody's got a different answer to it. And I, you know, some people have little pods of innovation that they use, some people have, it's integrated into the business, we try and approach it by figuring out what problems we're trying to solve and then we have technologists who think about that we have operators who think about that we have merchants that think about that, it tends to come together in some of our core teams, the product teams around the organization as well and then we do have some teams who spend their lives scanning, like what is there out there. Might there be an application to this, so that's kind of the blue sky, not so blue sky, and they bring that back in and we're fortunate to have some great people who joined dots to be able to do it. 

Judith McKenna  31:33

If I think about markets around the world, one that I think we should continue to pay attention to is India. Incredible country 1.4 billion people, the government there, you're probably aware has really made a stand to digitize the whole country. We have an e-commerce business there and we have a payments business there as well. The payments business is PhonePay, e-commerce is Flipkart. What is interesting is the adoption of digital payment in that market as the innovation that they are bringing to that. So that platform already has about 400 million users, and 36 million merchants connected to it. 

Michael LeBlanc  32:11

I'm sure the numbers are just-

Steve Dennis  32:12

I know, it's hard to even get your head around it.

Judith McKenna  32:13

Yeah, I can just, I can go further and tell you that their total payments value that moves through there, has just had the extraordinary $1 trillion mark and I tell you that the numbers are incredible, but it's actually to show how when you get an innovation or something that makes people's lives easier, that's connected into the infrastructure of how a country works, then actually, it scales really fast. So it's an interesting one for me to think about core platforms that scale fast, and what that looks like.

Steve Dennis  32:47

So, as you look at technology are there, you know, beyond I guess, sort of the obvious things that everybody's talking about, are there particular things that maybe you see more potential in that you don't generally see others in the industry focusing on? 

Judith McKenna  33:00

Yeah, I mean, I think retail is retail and I think we all have, you know, we all talk about social commerce, we all talk about, you know, what's the metaverse gonna do and what are these areas. For me, this idea of personalization for people, I think is huge and if you think about for a company that believes in strong local businesses, strong relationships with the individual customers in those businesses becomes even more valuable to us and I think there is an interesting question on personalization, which is you need data to be able to do that and then how do you put trust behind that data, as well. And then, you know, how do you make personalization real, as opposed to 'we personalize, you get this kind of thing' and you get this kind of thing and like what is it.

Michael LeBlanc  33:47

It's more like gang tackling more than that. 

Judith McKenna  33:50

Yes, meaningful, I make a difference in your life for what you can do. So, I'm, that's one of the areas I'm particularly interested in at the moment as well.

Steve Dennis  33:59

And I imagine part of that is, I mean, it's first party, having first party data, right. It's also having that one-to-one relationship, the ability to connect with that customer on a one to one basis. I imagine the membership program as part of that, or, I mean, I guess, one of the things that I've observed about Walmart, you may know, I used to work at Neiman Marcus and one of things that was great about Neiman Marcus was, we had so much of our business done on our private label credit card, we had a client telling relationship, we had a very big e-commerce business. So, we were able to uniquely identify, even before all the Apple stuff, you know, we, we had that ability to reach a lot of customers and have an enormous amount of data. Whereas the, you know, sort of the complaint about a lot of the big box retailers was they didn't have that kind of, but they have lots of transactional data.

Judith McKenna  34:43


Steve Dennis  34:43

But they didn't have a lot of individual data. Are there particular things or what do you agree with that as a fundamental challenge and then what are you doing to be able to connect more directly with customers and leverage the data?

Judith McKenna  34:53

The connection that you're trying to make all the time as the store data with the online data.

Steve Dennis  34:57


Judith McKenna  34:57

So, online data, we have verticals data, the new businesses data we have, how do you start to connect that with the store data and doing it for us in an eDLP way. That is the real piece for Walmart versus probably a lot of other people in the way that we approach that. We're finding different ways to do it. It's not perfect yet, we obviously have a blueprint, which is Sam's Club, which has all of the data, which is, you know, we can see what that can give us when we can do that, and how we can serve customers better, but also, advertisers better and think that way. So we're still working through how we do that and I think some of it will come through triangulation-

Steve Dennis  35:36


Judith McKenna  35:37

of knowing what all of the data is out there. Some of it will be ours, as you say, there'll be other data as well, which not necessarily come down to the customer. You Steve.

Steve Dennis  35:46


Judith McKenna  35:46

But knowing what you do, how you think, maybe we construct. 

Steve Dennis  35:50

Much more relevant.

Judith McKenna  35:51

Relevancy rather than individual because we don't want this to be something where people go, 'Oh, you know too much about me', we actually want this to be something that people go, 'Oh, that was really thoughtful of them to be able to do that'.

Steve Dennis  36:03

Yeah. Sort of the thin line between relevant and creepy we used to talk about.

Judith McKenna  36:06

It's true and you know, one of the things we talk about a lot is how do you create trust, and you don't ever want to do something with customers data, that you wouldn't want to be done to you either and I think that is really good, common sense, very Walmart sense chart on how we think.

Steve Dennis  36:26

What's your sense of what the future is going to look like, you know, we've got this sort of soft-landing kind of narrative, we've got the recession is inevitable, obviously, it's not exactly the same in every country, around the world, but what's your general outlook and how is Walmart preparing for-

Judith McKenna  36:42


Steve Dennis  36:44


Judith McKenna  36:44

I so wish I had a crystal ball, my life would be so much, I don't know, if it would be easier. I think I might just be like, 'Oh, really?' 

Steve Dennis  36:50

I have one, it's just been in the shop for a few years.

Judith McKenna  36:52

Thank you very much and if you'd just lend me, it occasionally, that would be great. What do I think it's gonna look like, I think, pretty much for the way the world is, at the moment, almost any outcome could come out of this and I'm not just hedging my bets with that, like, if you rewound over three, four years, and asked anybody to keep predicting, I think the social and economic position I see globally, is different to anything that we've experienced before, there are elements of it that are the same, but the whole is different. So, I think it's difficult to see how that's gonna play out. 

Judith McKenna  37:25

What I would advise, and we talked to all of our teams around the world, is, you know, think about what different scenarios could be and how we would react to it, but we are, back at our foundation of what we do and who we are, whether our times are good, Walmart should be there. If times are more challenging, Walmart should be there and I think the fact that we've evolved the business over the last few years, you know, everybody knew us for low prices, but actually, we're increasingly known for convenience as well. So, we have the big food business, we have a general merchandise business, we have apparel businesses, so I hope that we fit into the fabric of people's lives and make that easier, how it's gonna pan out economically, I'm not sure but when you know let me know.

Steve Dennis  38:15

You'll be the first.

Judith McKenna  38:15

Thank you very much, indeed.

Michael LeBlanc  38:16

You'll be the first.

Steve Dennis  38:18

Now that I have your email.

Michael LeBlanc  38:20

Last question for you. Again, we could have an entire podcast on leadership lessons, but I wanted to, if you could share a couple of them like I was reflecting on what you were talking about what you accomplish with large teams. So how much time do you spend on people versus operations and challenges and just one or two things that you would share in terms of advice for the listeners and fellow retailers?

Judith McKenna  38:41

Yeah, so people, people, people, teams, teams, teams, never be afraid to give somebody a job who's bigger and brighter and better than you are. That is just a fundamental in it. And then I have this little equation, which is, I've refined it over the years, which is EQ, IQ, RQ and HQ. Okay, so EQ and IQ we all grew up with, like, this is what you need to be in business.

Michael LeBlanc  39:08


Judith McKenna  39:09

What I've discovered over the years from a leadership perspective, that RQ which is Resilience Quotient, and that is that grit, it's that passion, that perseverance, that piece of it, I kind of added as I started to go through my career, and we're dealing with more and more complex situations and then as we went through COVID, I realized that HQ, which is the Hope Quotient is equally important and that's about the inspiration that you give, the belief that you give to people that there is a path through not only when there's a crisis, but there's a path through to win as a business as well. So, EQ, IQ, RQ, HQ is kind of there and I think, you know, am I in balance across those things and am I helping my team be able to balance those as well.

Michael LeBlanc 40:00

I'm gonna pull in one quick thread and this, this resilience idea. So, I've been told that executives are learning that the young executives that are brought on during the COVID era, the couple of years, feel like they grew up in a very difficult time and they might have more resilience, or they're baked in resilience and it's kind of like, you know, parents or grandparents growing up in the Depression there. They know, tough times, do you think we're a net, if we tried to get a net positive out of this COVID thing, is that one potential net positive that, that quotient has gone up? 

Judith McKenna  40:29

Yeah, I used to say in our business, that that generation of leaders that are coming in through behind me, it took all of my 30 years in business to even figure out what to do. Every day, as new scenarios were hitting us. They had an MBA, in weeks of the things that took us years to be able to learn and I hope that does create a new generation of people and I think when we talk about resilience, we think about the ability to withstand shocks, the dictionary definition of it, and I'm the daughter of two English teacher so I'm big into definitions, is the ability to adapt to change and that is the piece that if there's a threat of resilience that I hope, because the generation is learning is the ability to adapt to change because creating scales change, particularly in businesses that have been around for a while, that takes a particular kind of resilience of its own. So that's what I would think about that.

Michael LeBlanc  41:26

Fantastic. Well, Judith, thanks so much for joining Steve and I in the Wise Line Podcasting Studio here at Shop Talk. It was real fun to get to know you and thanks so much for spending a bit of time with us and I wish you safe travels and good luck on stage tomorrow.

Judith McKenna  41:39

Thank you. It's a pleasure to talk to both of you.

Michael LeBlanc  41:41

If you like what you heard, please follow us on Apple Spotify, your favorite podcast platform, and be sure to drop us that five star review. New episodes of Season 6, presented by Market Dial or show up each and every Tuesday. Be sure to tell your friends and colleagues in the retail industry all about us.

Steve Dennis  41:56

And I'm Steve Dennis, author of the bestselling book, ‘Remarkable Retail: How to Win & Keep Customers in the Age of Disruption’. You can learn more about me, my consulting and keynote speaking at

Michael LeBlanc  42:11

And I'm Michael LeBlanc, consumer retail growth consultant, keynote speaker. You can learn more about me on LinkedIn and you can catch up with Steve and me at the World Retail Congress, April 25 in Barcelona.

Michael LeBlanc  42:21

Until then, safe travels everyone!


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