The Evolution of Shareholders Meeting

Celebrating You

We look back at the history of the “world’s largest pep rally."

The year was 1970. Six people gathered in a coffee shop near Walmart’s warehouse in Bentonville, Arkansas. This was Walmart’s first official meeting of shareholders.

In its initial public offering (IPO), Walmart stock debuted at $15 per share. With an increase to $16.50, the six shareholders had reason to smile! The IPO was a success.

Healthy returns

Fast forward to today, and there are thousands of Walmart shareholders. In The Walmart Museum you might catch a peek of a 100-share certificate in Sam Walton’s name. But the name on the certificate isn’t the story there.

The real story: The $1,650 investment made by anyone who held a similar amount of Walmart stock back then would now be worth over $10 million. Now that’s what we’d call a great return!

A risky move

Meanwhile, back in the 1970s: The decision to hold the second shareholders meeting at the Coachman’s Inn in Little Rock, Arkansas, was based on advice to attract big-city investors. This move unfortunately proved to be misguided. How many shareholders were in attendance, you ask? Zero!

Back to Bentonville

After a year at the Benton County Fairgrounds, the meeting migrated to Bentonville High School, where a young Walmart assistant buyer helped decorate the gym. Who was that newbie? Doug McMillon, Walmart’s current President and CEO.

Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, AR, is packed with associates for the annual Associates Week celebration.

What he remembers from that time are feelings of hope and great optimism. (Apparently, that hope and optimism just kept growing stronger. Some things never change — and we’re glad about that.)

Speaking of optimism, check out this message from Sam Walton that appeared in June 1977, back when Walmart World was a print magazine.

Photocopy of "Message from Sam Walton" in early Walmart World magazine.

Next stop: The Walmart Home Office auditorium in 1985, where then-Governor and future President Bill Clinton repeated his earlier appearance at the 1980 meeting.

Off to college

In 1987, Sam moved the Shareholders Meeting to the University of Arkansas, its current home. The early meetings were held at Barnhill Arena, where they took place until 1994, when the Bud Walton Arena opened.

This “Basketball Palace of Mid-America” has a seating capacity of about 20,000 and was built thanks in large part to a donation from James “Bud” Walton, Sam’s brother and co-founder of Walmart.

What we share

Since that first Shareholders Meeting in 1970, attendance has grown — as has the level of production and excitement.

Photo of "Shareholders Family Reunion" held at Bud Walton Arena during the 1990's.

In fact, we’ve outgrown a single event — we now fill multiple days!

Starting in 2018, the Shareholders Meeting became a brief formal meeting focused on shareholders voting on proxy proposals. Surrounding this official gathering is a weeklong celebration in Northwest Arkansas, with thousands of associates coming from around the world. We call the event Associates Week.

Attending associates are celebrated for what they do, treated to special events and immersed in Walmart heritage. They share stories and experiences with fellow associates from around the globe. And finally, they return home with memories and tales to pass along and enjoy for a lifetime.

And isn’t that the point? Sure, the term “Shareholders” technically refers to owners of Walmart stock, but this very special week reminds us what we all own and share as associates: a pride in our brand and history, a belief in our culture and an optimism for the future!  

This article is based on an article that appeared on the Walmart Museum blog.

Explore more stories