Former Walmart CEO Lee Scott touts benefits of tech, sustainability in keynote

Former Walmart CEO Lee Scott told Tuesday morning’s keynote crowd that the technology-driven changes in logistics have been “profound” and will continue to change rapidly, but people can still count on some basics to stay the same.
By Roberto Michel, Editor at Large
March 18, 2014 - MMH Editorial

Former Walmart CEO Lee Scott told Tuesday morning’s keynote crowd that the technology-driven changes in logistics have been “profound” and will continue to change rapidly, but people can still count on some basics to stay the same, such as use of trucking, physical stores, and the value of integrity and continuous learning in developing one’s leadership skills.

Twenty years from now, said Scott, trucks will still be on the road making deliveries, and physical stores will still be in need, but “the changes that do happen will be profound.” Scott said warehouses increasingly will use automation, calling for less workers for manual tasks, but also need for experts “who understand how the systems work.”

Scott said that in his tenure at Walmart, there were vast tech-driven improvements, including better visibility on what was selling in each store, which was passed on to suppliers, allowing for leaner inventory positions in distribution centers. On the logistics side, better technology cut the average waiting period for Walmart trailers to sit empty from an average of five days to one day. Technology, Scott told the crowd, “has changed everything” and on the whole “everything about it is a positive.”

Scott also recounted how sustainability has helped Walmart save on logistics costs and cut packaging waste, even though Scott said he once caught criticism from a conservative who didn’t want Walmart’s actions to add credence to climate change positions. On the other hand, added Scott, some environmentalists were so wary of being associated with Walmart that they refused to meet at the company’s headquarters in 2005 when Walmart wanted their input on sustainability goals and instead met with the company at other locations.

Big companies like Walmart do best with public opinion, said Scott, when they stop being defensive about isolated negative incidents and focus on positive accomplishments, such as the work Walmart employees did to help people desperate for supplies after Hurricane Katrina. “People were willing to embrace us if we did the right thing,” said Scott.

Scott served as Walmart’s president and CEO from 2000–2009. He began with the company in 1979, as an assistant director of the private truck fleet in the logistics division, rising through the ranks to executive vice president of logistics in 1993, and on to other senior leadership positions.

Modex 2014 is scheduled to be held March 17-20, 2014 in Atlanta’s Georgia World Conference Center. The tradeshow will showcase the latest manufacturing, distribution and supply chain solutions in the material handling and logistics industry. Modern’s complete Modex 2014 coverage.

About the Author

Roberto Michel
Editor at Large

Roberto Michel, an editor at large for Modern, has covered manufacturing and supply chain management trends since 1986, mainly as a former staff editor and former contributor at Manufacturing Business Technology. He has been a contributor to Modern since 2004. He has worked on numerous show dailies, including at ProMat, the North American Material Handling Logistics show, and National Manufacturing Week.

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