March 18, 2014

Modex Day 2 keynote: Lee Scott on his rise to the top, advice for success

Former Wal-Mart CEO outlined some of the business and life lessons he learned during his journey to the top job at the world's biggest retailer.

By DC Velocity Staff

Lee Scott, the former Wal-Mart truck fleet manager who eventually rose to become the retail giant's CEO, charmed the audience during the keynote presentation on Day 2 of Modex 2014 in Atlanta. His self-effacing humor, humbleness, fluid conversational style, and thoughtful responses to the answers posed by DC Velocity's Mitch Mac Donald, who served as moderator, demonstrated the kind of quiet charisma that helped to make him such an effective leader.

Scott spoke about business issues, including the challenges confronting companies and managers in the areas of technology, human resources, and business management, but much of the conversation centered on people. His experiences at Wal-Mart, Scott said, taught him that an appreciation for both the abilities and the needs of other people are necessary for anyone who wants to be a successful leader. Other comments in that vein, including advice for success, included:

  • Wal-Mart's truck drivers taught him "at all costs to be honest." People in logistics are real people doing real work, and learning to value that work and how to communicate with people at all levels of logistics "made me a better person."
  • Sam Walton believed that your suppliers are your partners, and if you treat them with respect, they will help you to succeed.
  • Listen and learn from the people around you and from their experiences. Ask yourself, "What would I do or say differently?" Your choice is to leave your personal career development up to your company or to control it yourself.
  • Think about the impact of your business policies on the people you serve. By using logistics to keep prices low, for instance, Wal-Mart can help low-income people have what they need rather than be priced out of necessities.
  • His advice for young people hoping to move up the career ladder: Integrity is the foundation of success, both personally and in business.
  • Don't think that the most important thing is what you said; it's what the other person heard.
  • Hire good people who are better than you, and make sure they get credit for their contributions.

The best part of his career has been the people he has met and the long-lasting, mutually respectful relationships he has developed, Scott said. That, he said, was among his most important measures of personal success.

For more from Scott, see the article "A logistician turned CEO: interview with Lee Scott" from the March 2014 issue of DC Velocity.

More coverage from MODEX 2014