MADE IN AMERICA by Sam Walton and John Huey

Doubleday, 1992. ISBN 0-385-42615-1

The book tells the story of Sam Walton from his first full time work as a management trainee in a J.C.Penney store in Des Moines, Iowa, to his creation of America's largest chain of supermarkets. The story is told with the help of John Huey, using a chronological sequence and interviews with his former associates.

The writing style is schmaltzy but it can't hide voices that provide an interesting record. In the first instance there was no plan. Walton was successful at (almost) everything that he tried his hand at, whether it was delivering newspapers or reading management books to copy useful ideas, but he picked it up as he went along. In his own words,"..number 8 was another experiment...we rented an old Coca-Cola bottling plant. We didn't have systems, we didn't have ordering programs, we certainly didn't have a basic merchandising fact when I look at it today I realise that so much of what we did in the beginning was really poorly done."

What he
did have was a good understanding of post-war small town America and the book is worth reading for the portrayal of this alone. In fact it is two or three books in one. As a lifetime's exercise in trial and error by one of the world's great experimenters, the reader receives some very acute observations on sociology and business. The last chapter "Running A Successful Company: Ten Rules That Worked For Me" made this reviewer wonder at the time wasted on any other management writing.

Walton curiously comes across as no great egoist. He was fanatically interested in improving his business, trying out everything he could imagine, (he had his tape recorder removed by a store detective while noting down impressions and prices in a competing store) but his ultimate preference was to get out of his office and visit the stores. He seemed to genuinely enjoy the people who shopped there and the people who worked there and wanted to better the lives of all of them.

This book is highly recommended.

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