Doug McMillon, Just Another Associate?
McMillon, Wal-Mart’s CEO was at a conference last week and gave the audience an opportunity to ask questions. They asked what he planned to do for his workers, in Wal-Mart speak, associates. Whereupon, he told the assembled multitude that he too was an associate – Ich bin ein Berliner.
Corporate executives spouting PR points as if they were a revered truth have long been a part of the American scene. Generally, they aren’t actually lying, they are exaggerating, emphasizing certain aspects of a situation, trying to persuade the public that their actions are legal or righteous in some sense. But this one tests the limits of credulity.
McMillon did at one point work for Wal-Mart in their warehouse. He could have said with perfect truth that he had once been an associate, a telling point in an argument, that he is speaking from direct experience. But no, his PR staff undoubtedly explained to him that It would be far more convincing if he could persuade an audience that his company was one big family struggling together against a cruel world of which he was but one insignificant player among many.
But he’s not an associate and only his PR flacks and he find it credible to claim otherwise.
What’s the business ethics of claiming to be just another employee? What’s the business ethics of being a multimillionaire and claiming the mantle of those a bare step above a minimum wage? This is both an organizational and a personal business ethics problem. There can be little doubt that McMillan did not construct the “millionaire CEO as regular worker” ploy. It has too much PR built into it, it feels like an ad campaign. But while both McMillan and an associate are both Wal-Mart employees, there is just too much distance in status and renumeration to make this a viable claim. On the personal ethics level, that McMillon said this knowing that most people would consider it a lie does not speak well of his judgement either.
It seems to me that when your resort to this kind of hollow argument, that you must be flailing around looking for something that might work because what worked in the past, doesn’t sell anymore.
Walmart’s CEO made about $10 million last year, but he’s just another “associate,” he says.
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