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7 Sam Walton Quotes You Should Read Right Now

Sam Walton made one of the world’s largest fortunes for himself and his investors by adhering to principles of leadership, quality, and excellence. Here are just a few of his most colorful quotes on a wide range of subjects.

Even as it copes with the shifting retail landscape, Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) remains the most dominant force in global retail today, 54 years after its founding. As is the case with other renowned American companies, Wal-Mart is in many ways a reflection of its visionary founder — Sam Walton.

Equally known for his business acumen as for his extreme wealth, Walton’s high-profile public life produced a fountain of interviews, with quotes distilling many of his most important insights across a wide range of issues. Here are a handful of Sam Walton’s top quotes on business and life.

Sam Walton on business

One of the most common themes that pervade the thinking of many of the world’s top entrepreneurs is customer obsession, and the same holds true of Sam Walton. Like Jeff Bezos at Amazon and Steve Jobs at Apple, Walton believed businesses exist to serve customers:

There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.

As another interesting unifying theme, many of today’s greatest business visionaries didn’t invent the concepts behind their companies. Personal computers and smartphones existed before Steve Jobs and Apple introduced both to the mainstream. The internet and e-commerce preceded Jeff Bezos and Amazon. Similarly, Sam Walton understood that success in business doesn’t involve inventing something entirely new, a useful lesson to businesspeople and investors everywhere:

Most of us don’t invent ideas. We take the best ideas from someone else.

Sam Walton on leadership

Legendarily gregarious, Walton never viewed leadership as an abstract or academic exercise; the man led by action. He believed that many of the best insights into improving Wal-Mart’s operations came from those working on its front lines: the front- and back-office employees running its stores. He constantly visited Wal-Mart stores, and the attitude and tone he set while out in the field shone through in his public statements:

The key to success is to get out into the store and listen to what the associates have to say.

However, this positive reinforcement also carried with it a business agenda. Walton understood that meeting and listening to his employees benefited the company beyond just identifying areas for improvement. Demonstrating that the company’s CEO genuinely cared about even its most junior people could also serve as a motivating force for Wal-Mart’s employees:

If you want the people in the stores to take care of the customers, you have to make sure you’re taking care of the people in the stores. That’s the most important single ingredient of Wal-Mart’s success.

Motivated and happy employees serve their customers better. If done well, Walton believed this leadership style could create a positive feedback loop, giving a boost to the company’s overall performance:

Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.

Sam Walton on life

As is so often the case with renowned business leaders, their insight extends far beyond the boardroom. Though obvious in retrospect, Walton’s choice of retail as a career didn’t necessarily appear, in its early days, to be a pathway to great wealth and fame. In fact, the man embraced a contrarian worldview in many regards:

Swim upstream. Go the other way. Ignore the conventional wisdom.

As should be clear now, Walton’s line of reasoning rests upon a more universal prescription for happiness, rather than monetary success. As Steve Jobs famously said in his Stanford commencement address, great results stem from heroic efforts — something most people can achieve only if they like what they do. Here’s Walton’s way of phrasing this enduring bit of wisdom:

If you love your work, you’ll be out there every day trying to do it the best you possibly can, and pretty soon everybody around will catch the passion from you — like a fever.

Though his star has since been eclipsed by more recent business magnates like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and others, Sam Walton’s place as a legendary businessman and leader also deserves study. Customer service, attention to your own employees, and taking the road less traveled — these insights aren’t unique to Walton. However, given their timeless nature, anyone interested in improving as a businessperson or investor can hardly hear them enough.

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Andrew Tonner owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon.com and Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2018 $90 calls on Apple and short January 2018 $95 calls on Apple.

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Drew Limsky

Drew Limsky

Editor-in-Chief

BIOGRAPHY

Drew Limsky joined Lifestyle Media Group in August 2020 as Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Business & Wealth. His first issue of SFBW, October 2020, heralded a reimagined structure, with new content categories and a slew of fresh visual themes. “As sort of a cross between Forbes and Robb Report, with a dash of GQ and Vogue,” Limsky says, “SFBW reflects South Florida’s increasingly sophisticated and dynamic business and cultural landscape.”

Limsky, an avid traveler, swimmer and film buff who holds a law degree and Ph.D. from New York University, likes to say, “I’m a doctor, but I can’t operate—except on your brand.” He wrote his dissertation on the nonfiction work of Joan Didion. Prior to that, Limsky received his B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from Emory University and earned his M.A. in literature at American University in connection with a Masters Scholar Award fellowship.

Limsky came to SFBW at the apex of a storied career in journalism and publishing that includes six previous lead editorial roles, including for some of the world’s best-known brands. He served as global editor-in-chief of Lexus magazine, founding editor-in-chief of custom lifestyle magazines for Cadillac and Holland America Line, and was the founding editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida. He also was the executive editor for B2B magazines for Acura and Honda Financial Services, and he served as travel editor for Conde Nast. Magazines under Limsky’s editorship have garnered more than 75 industry awards.

He has also written for many of the country’s top newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, USA Today, Worth, Robb Report, Afar, Time Out New York, National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Journal, Ritz-Carlton, Elite Traveler, Florida Design, Metropolis and Architectural Digest Mexico. His other clients have included Four Seasons, Acqualina Resort & Residences, Yahoo!, American Airlines, Wynn, Douglas Elliman and Corcoran. As an adjunct assistant professor, Limsky has taught journalism, film and creative writing at the City University of New York, Pace University, American University and other colleges.