scorecardWalmart CEO Doug McMillon shares 3 tips for success in work and life
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Walmart CEO Doug McMillon shares 3 tips for success in work and life

Dominick Reuter   

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon shares 3 tips for success in work and life
Retail5 min read
  • Walmart CEO Doug McMillon delivered this year's commencement address at the University of Arkansas.
  • Speaking at his alma mater, McMillon shared three pieces of career advice for new graduates.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon returned this weekend to his alma mater, the University of Arkansas, where he delivered the commencement address to the class of 2024.

In his seven-minute speech, the 57-year-old Arkansas native shared three pieces of advice from his career, which has seen him rise from Walmart's loading docks to the company's top job.

McMillon also revealed how some plans didn't work out — like being rejected from the top MBA programs — and how a mistake could have ended his career before it began.

Doug McMillon's remarks, as delivered

The following transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Thank you for the invitation to be your speaker. My goals are to hopefully say something helpful and to be brief.

Being brief is something I can control, so here goes: I've got three pieces of advice.

First, be present. Life goes by fast, so try to enjoy every moment. I'm wired to think more about what's coming next than the moment right in front of me. Planning is important, but enjoying the present is, too.

When I was sitting in your chair, I had a plan. It was 1989, and in one of my final classes, our Professor Jim Webster required us to write what he called a life plan.

Jim had us write out the professional, financial, and personal goals we had for our life. I still have it, and I was mostly wrong.

I planned to make more than $24,000 a year in my first real job out of school. I made less than that.

I planned to get into business school at Harvard, Stanford, or Wharton. They all rejected me.

I planned to start my own business, make a new product, launch a brand, and make it in the USA, and that didn't happen.

But thankfully, I got the more important personal stuff right. In the plan, I named who I wanted to marry, and Shelly said yes. And we have two children — that was in the plan, too — and they're now successful adults, and they continue to be the highlights of our life.

So, not all things will go exactly like you have in mind. Some will, some won't, and that's great. Anything else would be boring.

Career-wise, the first thing I tell anyone who asks for guidance is to do today's job well, be present, drive change, deliver results, and do it the right way.

Being present in today's role and earning trust leads to the next job opportunity. The chapters in life personally and professionally go by so fast, so try to enjoy every moment and every phase of it. Be present.

My second piece of advice is to pursue a career that does not feel like work. Life is too short to invest so much time doing something you don't enjoy.

I grew up in a house where my dad was professionally unhappy. Being a dentist just wasn't for him.

Now, I believe some of you are going to be dentists. Thank you very much, thank God, God bless you. My brother married a dentist, and she loves it. It just wasn't for my dad, and too often, it robbed us of some joy in our house.

So, I set myself up for flexibility. I got a degree in accounting because I felt that would apply to any business, and I followed it up with an MBA, thinking that would help me move companies or even industries if I wasn't happy.

Ironically, I found my happy place immediately and never had to leave. I love the challenge of retail. The purpose and culture of Walmart, and the people I've worked with over the years have become my lifelong friends.

I hope you find your spot quickly like I did. But if you don't, my advice is that you shouldn't give up until you do.

I'm not suggesting you run from hard things or adversity when they come up, and they will. In fact, your connection to your purpose and what gives you energy is what will enable you to persevere. If you're in the right place, most days, work won't even feel like work.

My third and final piece of advice is to assume positive intent from others and show them some grace. Know that you'll get more joy from what you give than what you get.

Sam Walton's wife Helen said it's not what you gather, but what you scatter that tells what kind of life you've lived. She was right.

If you find yourself feeling stuck or negative, go do something to help someone else, then notice how you feel. It works. It's unselfish and kind of selfish in a way.

There's a lot of conflict in our world today. Lots of worrying and too much suffering. We have a lot of challenges to be solved.

I've been traveling all over the world for more than 30 years now, and years ago, I was advised to focus on the differences from country to country.

I was in South Africa with our associates last week, and I was reminded of the same thing I've seen everywhere else: people have so much more in common than we do differences. We should focus on that.

The things we care about are largely the same: we want our kids to have it better than we do, we want to be loved and accepted, and we want to make a difference.

My encouragement to you is to realize that, and when you encounter others, assume positive intent, show some grace, and be forgiving.

My first day on the job with Walmart I rear ended my boss's car. It's a true story, his name is Benny Bridwell, he lives in Rogers, you can ask him.

I showed up to work at the warehouse, but he decided to take a few of the rookies across town to help decorate the high school gym for the shareholders meeting in 1984.

Benny stopped at a stop sign, and I thought he had gone through. My car didn't have air conditioning or radio, so I had a cassette tape boombox in the passenger seat blaring really loud, and my windows were down I didn't want him to hear me.

So I leaned over to the seat to turn the volume down — I think it was Bryan Adams playing at the moment. I then punched the gas, and I hit him really solid.

He gets out of the car, walks around, looks at his bumper, looks at mine, shakes his head, and he says, "McMillon, you are not too smart, are you?"

And I remember shrugging like, "I guess not."

He showed me some grace and forgiveness. I don't even know if he ever told anyone. I guess my career could have ended right then.

Realize that we're more alike than different, and remember that you'll get more joy from giving than receiving. Show people some grace.

Thanks again for the invitation; it really is an honor. My congratulations to all of you. Now, go make this university proud.