How did Walmart’s leaders respond to the myriad employees, investors, and proxy advisors urging the company to strengthen corporate governance standards by establishing an independent board chairman? Why, by entrenching Walton control of the company, of course, appointing director Greg Penner as the board’s vice chair and setting him up to succeed his father-in-law Rob Walton as chairman of the company.
Charmaine Givens-Thomas of Illinois, a longtime Walmart associate and shareholder, traveled to Arkansas to attend the company’s annual meeting and read the shareholder resolution calling for an independent chairman. She was not impressed by Walmart’s selection of Penner, telling Bloomberg: “It’s absolutely in the opposite direction that we wanted. We want Walmart to put an independent person in there to be more fair to the associates and shareholders.”
Company leaders’ message to Walmart associates and shareholders seems to be: You don’t matter unless you’re a Walton. However, the Walton family, Walmart executives, and members of the board of directors shouldn’t expect to be able to ignore other shareholders forever. Indeed, shareholder sentiment for better governance standards appears to be rising: Between 2013 and 2014, the percentage of shareholders supporting an independent chairman for the company’s Board of Directors increased. Will it grow even more in 2015?