Leading with Purpose: What Walton Enterprises Is All About

While every company wants to become the next Amazon, Amazon is gunning to be the next Walmart. Now, meet the family office that birthed the retail giant. Walton Enterprises is the family office that manages the Walton family’s wealth and investments. The Waltons are easily the world’s wealthiest family. Heirs to the Walmart Empire, they have a combined wealth of roughly $224 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index.

walton enterprises
Purpose Updated on January 16, 2024

Walton Enterprises serves the personal, philanthropic and business needs of the descendants of Sam and Helen Walton. It's worth noting that Walton Enterprises LLC came before Walmart. The family office was founded in 1953 by Sam Walton, while the first Walmart opened its doors in 1962.

About the Company

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Walton Enterprise, LLC

  • Location Arkansas, United States of America
  • Type Single family office
  • Founded 1953
  • Services Wealth management

Before there was Walmart

Born in 1918 on a farm in Oklahoma, Sam Walton grew up during the Great Depression. He graduated from the University of Missouri and began his lifelong career in the retail store business in 1940 as a sales trainee at JCPenney.

In 1941, he enlisted in the US Army to serve in World War II. The army stationed him in Oklahoma, where met Helen Robson at a department store, and the couple got married in 1943 on Valentine’s Day.

When the war was over in 1945, Sam purchased his first Ben Franklin variety store, a Butler Brothers of Chicago franchise division. As the story goes, he put up $5,000 of his own money and borrowed $20,000 from his father-in-law to seal the deal.

After five years in the retail franchise, Sam hit a snag with the Butler Brothers. They refused to renew his rental lease, and Sam got kicked out of his own store. Eager to start afresh and do things right, he searched for a new store to buy. He found a small variety store and signed a 99-year lease in Benton, Arkansas. In 1950, Sam opened his second store and called it Walton’s Five and Dive.

By the time Sam established Walton Enterprises in 1953, he had over fifteen retail stores open in Arkansas and surrounding areas.

Building the empire

In the 1950s, Sam Walton reinvented the American retail store business. His obsession with putting the customer first meant big parking lots without charging parking fees. His stores opened from 5 am till 10 pm – at the time, the longest operating hours for retail. And on Saturdays, he would put up ice cream machines on the sidewalk while selling popcorn on the other end as a way to encourage foot traffic.

However, his real success came from delivering low prices to customers consistently. Having learned about self-service – rather than having multiple sales clerks do all the leg work, Sam allowed customers to walk into the store, get the goods themselves and pay at the entrance. Implementing the system across all his stores, the cut in staff salaries meant he could drive prices even lower. And the trick ended up tripling his profits in less than a year.

Redefining retail stores

In the 1960s, Walton was convinced there was still more to the retail business. His big idea was to build mega discount stores in rural locations to serve more communities. However, this endeavour would cost a lot of money to put together. 1962, he took a big gamble, borrowed more money and mortgaged his home to open the first Walmart store in Rogers, Arkansas. Working with his brother, Bud Walton, they borrowed and bootstrapped the operation until the late 60s.

In 1970, they decided to take the company public. The initial offering generated about $5 million, and the family retained about 61% ownership of the stock. The liquidity event allowed Sam to pay off his debts and move on to start his philanthropic work. He formed the Walton Family Foundation in the 80s, where he dedicated the rest of his time to improving the education system in America. The foundation runs the philanthropic arm of Walton Enterprises.

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Walton Enterprises goes corporate

Over time, Walton Enterprises became the primary vehicle for managing the Walton family’s wealth and investments. Sam Walton set it up so that his four children would receive an equal percentage share of the company. After the passing of his second eldest son John, his share went to his wife, Christy and their only son, Lukas Walton.

As Walmart grew and became one of the largest retailers in the world, Walton Enterprises played a vital role in managing the family’s ownership stake in the company. Today, it employs hundreds of professionals across the United States.

The family office has its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, alongside the Walmart headquarters. It also has three other locations in Washington, Denver, and Jersey City. Its formidable team of executive professionals is headed by Sam’s youngest son, Jim C Walton.

The new adventures of Walton Enterprises

The second and third generations of the Walton clan continue to play their roles in the family business. The eldest son, Robert Walton, served as chairman of Walmart until 2015. He also launched the environmental and sustainability branch of the Walton Family Foundation. One of the first grants they gave helped develop a sustainable fisheries label.

Alice Walton, the only daughter and the second richest woman in the world, is a patron of the arts. In 2011 she opened a $50 million museum called Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. The museum houses her $500 million private art collection.

Jim Walton is chairman of the family’s Arvest Bank, which boasts more than $20 billion in assets. He sat on Walmart’s board for over a decade before handing over the seat to his son, Steuart Walton, in June 2016.

Profits with purpose

Perhaps the most exciting path is the one taken by Lukas Walton. At age 36, a third-generation Walton, Lukas uses his fortunes to drive social change. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Lukas created Builders Vision, a family office dedicated to promoting a humane and healthy planet.

“If we are going to make lasting change happen, we need our mission to show up in everything we do – especially in how we commit our resources,” said Lukas Walton in an interview with CNBC.

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