A lot of people love to bash big box retailers in general and Wal-Mart in particular for being too-powerful, uncaring, corporate dictators who revel in doing as little good as possible and sqashing everyone in their path in their quest for world domination and incalculable profits.
I don’t want to turn this into a debate about Wal-Mart, but I do feel compelled to share this article which reveals some of the virtues of being a big, powerful, for-profit company. Real Katrina Hero? Wal-Mart, Study Says
The study (and no, it wasn’t sanctioned by Wal-Mart) analyzes how Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowe’s made use of their local knowledge about supply chains, infrastructure, decision makers and other resources to provide emergency supplies and reopen stores when Katrina hit well before FEMA began its response.
“Profit-seeking firms beat most of the government to the scene and provided more effectively the supplies needed for the immediate survival of a population cut off from life’s most basic necessities,” Horwitz wrote in the study, which was published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. “Though numerous private-sector firms played important roles in the relief operations, Wal-Mart stood out.”
Also, Wal-Mart leadership gave tremendous discretion to store managers and employees to make decisions rather than waiting for instructions from upper-level management, allowing for more-agile disaster response. CEO Lee Scott passed down a guiding edict to regional, district and store managers: “A lot of you are going to have to make decisions above your level. Make the best decision that you can with the information that’s available to you at the time, and, above all, do the right thing.”
Exapmles of that principle in action:
- A Kenner, La., employee used a forklift to knock open a warehouse door to get water for a retirement home.
- In Marrero, La., employees allowed police officers to use the store as a headquarters and a sleeping place, as many had lost their homes.
- In Waveland, Miss., assistant manager Jessica Lewis ran a bulldozer through her store to collect basics that were not water-damaged, which she then piled in the parking lot and gave away to residents. She also broke into the store’s locked pharmacy to supply critical drugs to a hospital.
Click on the article link to see a rather impressive photo of a string of Wal-Mart trucks as far as the eye can see, waiting to enter New Orleans to bring (free) supplies.
Of course the cynics can attribute this benevolence to be nothing more than a PR ploy, but even if it is, it’s still pretty powerful and impressive. After all, it demonstrates how we the people collectively and effectively pull the strings of Wal-Mart and other for-profit corporations (another example is Wal-Mart’s very expensive and globally consequential environmental campaign). It’s arguably more influence than we have over our own government as a collective mass of individuals.
More from Meg at The World of Wealth