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October 10, 2019

Former Walmart CEO talks personal success and caring relationships

Retired Walmart CEO Mike Duke met with students in the Lutgert College of Business on Tuesday, Oct. 8. Photos: James Greco/FGCU

Linking corporate culture and considerate people is a primary goal of Walmart. Former CEO Mike Duke says it is the foundation for any successful company. Duke visited Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) Tuesday, speaking with a room full of finance majors about succeeding in business and financial governance.

“I love this school,” said Duke. “I love what the school stands for. The overall culture and values of the school are fantastic.”

Culture, values and the foundation of corporate governance centered Duke’s talk. He encourages students to get personal with companies during the interview process, learn what they are about and then form relationships. Integrity, striving for excellence and a passion for serving customers leads Walmart’s core values. Duke believes college graduates need to hone communication skills and show they can care about people.

“I spent a lot of time talking about people, developing people, relationships with people, because even a topic like governance is still connected to people relationships,” said Duke.

A community connection brought Duke to campus. He spends a majority of the year in Naples with his wife.

“When you have somebody like that in the area, they can offer insight that we could never pull out of a textbook,” said Shelton Weeks, FGCU department chair of economics and finance.

Duke started with Walmart in 1994 and served as CEO from 2008 to 2014. Retirement has not slowed him down. He currently serves on several boards, including the Chick-Fil-A Board of Directors and the advisory board at his alma mater, The Georgia Institute of Technology.

“Having these former and current executives participate in our program brings the material to life in ways that can’t be duplicated,” Weeks said.

Retired Walmart CEO Mike Duke spoke to two different financial policy classes on Tuesday, Oct. 9.

Duke believes the business world is moving fast and he regrets not moving faster during his time at Walmart. He said now the corporation is investing major resources and playing “catch up” to online competitor, Amazon. Duke told students to think of speed as a competitive advantage in the workplace and to be known as someone with the skill.

“What I do hope is there will be some practical applications to their future. They are starting future careers in business that they would come to understand the importance of governance, but how governance is really tied to people,” said Duke.

According to a recent report, last year Walmart brought in $514.4 billion in over 11,000 stores, serving 275 million customers every week. More than 2 million people are employed at Walmart and Duke credits every person with the company’s success.

“I think in some cases it’s we – we being all of us – have allowed technology to be a replacement for people relationships. That should not be the case. People relationships are more important than ever,” said Duke.

Having professionals like Duke living in Southwest Florida is providing a competitive advantage for the Lutgert College of Business (LCOB). He is one of several local business professionals who are bringing real life insight to students this semester.

“It is amazing to see C-suite executives get excited about helping our students. Beyond the material and topics being covered, these interactions allow LCOB students to greatly expand their view of potential career paths and what they can achieve through hard work and dedication,” Weeks added.

Virtually every major firm in Southwest Florida participates in LCOB programs.  They assist in the classroom, participate in internship programs and serve on the dean’s and departmental advisory boards.  These firms include Arthrex; Chico’s; Hertz; HERC; Gartner Group; Wasmer, Schroeder & Co. and many others.

Students currently enrolled in financial policy classes attended Duke’s presentation. Weeks knows sharing professional experience in the classroom makes for a strong learning experience for students. That’s what makes FGCU so attractive to the leaders who call Southwest Florida home.

“Many of them have a drive that makes them want to give back,” said Weeks. “They want to help the next generation.”

Retired Walmart CEO Mike Duke poses with Lutgert College of Business students and faculty.