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Leaders on Leadership: A Conversation With Mike Duke, President and CEO of Walmart (Retired) and Dean Maryam Alavi

Michael (Mike) Duke, retired president and chief executive officer, of Walmart discusses leadership with Dean Alavi
Mike Duke, retired President and CEO of Walmart

Mike Duke, retired President and CEO of Walmart

Dean Maryam Alavi recently sat down with Michael (Mike) Duke, retired president and chief executive officer, of Walmart to discuss his thoughts on leadership to a capacity crowd of students, faculty, staff, and alumni at Scheller College of Business. Mr. Duke (IE 71) provided a brief overview of his long career at Walmart - joining the company in 1995 with $80 billion in sales annually versus today’s $500 billion in annual sales. Duke said the success in the growth of Walmart was due to the retail giant treating every store and customer individually.

When asked by Dean Alavi what makes a great leader, Duke replied there are four characteristic that make for a great leader:

  1. Integrity and trust
  2. Place priority on others by practicing the golden rule of treating people the way you wish to be treated
  3. Excel in execution and innovation
  4. Create a mission, purpose, and culture for teams that support their goals

With such a successful career, Duke professed that he has made mistakes over the years and attributes these mistakes with providing him with foresight and growth in his career. He provided an example of seeing a breakdown in supply chain distribution related to his staff’s lack of training on new technology being implemented. He noted, “I realized then that training and investing in people is so important. Making mistakes are going to happen, he said. The important thing is what you learn from them.”

He believes that one of the core characteristics for business leaders to have is agility. “Disruption five years from now will be faster and stronger than in the last five years,” he said. He sees the role of AI, machine learning and a strong background in quantitative skills as key elements in business five years from now.

Duke recounts that he was called a “maverick” in his roles over the years because he was willing to jump in and try new things. Some of them failed and not everyone saw his moniker as a positive, but he embraced his nickname as part of his innovative spirit. 

He sees diversity, integrity, and teamwork as characteristics that automatically create innovation. Dean Alavi agreed. “There are a number of academic studies that have shown where, in fact, diversity does lead to innovation,” she said.

“If every person on a team could perform to their greatest potential, then that would be the environment I would want as a leader,” Duke concluded.

View the recorded event

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