Associate Celebration Recap: Not Just a Meeting, It’s a Moment

Celebrating You; Associates Week 2023

A star-studded celebration where associates shined the brightest.

It was bright and early when Walmart associates and leadership from all over the world poured into the Bud Walton Arena for the 2023 annual Associates Celebration.

DJs Bo, Chris and Kirby and DJ alum Antonio Williams put the HYPE (!) into the Hype Show as a Walmart blue sea of associates danced and cheered. 

“Are you fired up?” Kirby asked. Naturally, associates brought the fire and the spirit!

Cedric Clark, executive vice president of store operations for Walmart U.S., Cristian Barrientos Pozo, CEO of Walmart Chile, and Lance De La Rosa, Sam’s Club’s COO, kicked off the celebration with the Walmart and Sam’s Club cheers in English and Spanish. 

The crowd went wild as Shania Twain swaggered onto the stage singing her signature, “Man! I Feel Like A Woman.” She got into the crowd to share the mic with associates who sang along with gusto — putting some “up in your giddy,” as Shania aptly put it.

“I can feel the sense of unity here, which is really beautiful,” she said.

This year’s host was none other than Kevin Hart, who took the stage to ecstatic cheers from the crowd. (Among a plethora of comedy movies and specials, you may recognize him from this Sam’s Club ad.) “It’s 8 a.m. and you’ve already been to a Shania Twain concert,” he said in disbelief.

Summing up the Associate Celebration perfectly, he said, “It’s not a meeting, it’s a moment.”

Kevin introduced Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, who was seated in the upper tier of the audience with Walmart Canada. Why was he up there instead of his assigned seat? To honor associate Fernande Dubé-Deschênes, apparel associate at Store 3035 in Granby, Quebec, who was celebrating her 60th Walmart anniversary milestone!

After a stirring rendition of the U.S. national anthem, associates representing 19 countries filed onto the stage bearing each nation’s flag. A perfect visual representation of associates across the word, all united in our mission to help people save money and live better.

Greg Penner, chairman of the board of directors, recalled the first shareholders meeting that only had six attendees, and another early meeting no one showed up for. After initial frustration at this, Sam Walton made the decision to invite associates to show appreciation for how you take care of each other and their communities.

As a perfect example of this spirit, Greg thanked Pam Moore, Deb Breitweiser and Sandy Summers, who have worked together for 40 years — sharing a milestone with their Store 480 in Pittsfield, Illinois.

Next, this year’s WATS winners (pictured above) took the stage and positively dazzled. Brandy Smith and Jason Mills sang “Fast Car” as Briana Holmes roller-skated across the stage. Seth Rouse played keyboard and sang “Praise You,” as Shaifali Gargya, Shreya Gargya and Kirthana Kolekar danced in resplendent saris.

Joel Falknor and Jahnna Perez sang together in matching sparkling blazers as dancers did acrobatics across the stage. Jasmine Smith and Billy Dickens joined to sing “Celebrate,” as all the multitalented WATS-winners filled the stage. Their collective charisma was overpowering. Congrats to this talented crew! 

Next, Judith McKenna, CEO of Walmart International, spoke about the power of leading with heart and how it produces a ripple effect. “The care and passion you show every day is about heart. I’d go as far as to say it’s our superpower!” she said.

She shared powerful examples of associates who do just that, all around the world.

“Like Feeda Betty, who fled civil unrest in Liberia with her mother and arrived in Canada when she was just 10 years old.” Feeda joined Walmart as a temporary cashier while she was still in school to help support her family. And today she’s a store manager in Wallaceburg, Ontario.

“Her path wasn’t smooth or easy,” Judith reminded us. But with encouragement from others who believed in her, she was inspired to follow her dreams.

She highlighted Preeti Rathore, who founded Amritatva Foods. When her son was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance at age 5, she began creating healthy, gluten-free vegan foods for wheat-intolerant people across India, sourcing local ingredients and educating farmers on techniques that conserve resources and energy. Preeti started selling her products online through Flipkart and expanded her business to employ 10 people today.

“I hope we never underestimate what a difference we can make   in fact that only Walmart can make,” Judith said.

None other than John Legend took the stage, charming associates as he sang and played piano. He led associates in a spirited call and response. Associates sang out with — you guessed it — heart! What else?!

Kath McLay, CEO of Sam’s Club, took the stage to talk about how after 40 years of Sam’s Club, “some of our jobs aren’t what they used to be — and that’s a good thing."

Through technology, we’re making strides to minimize tedious tasks, freeing up associates to put more time into making human connections.

“It’s often our more human moments that create the strongest bonds,” Kath said. “There’s lasting power in these acts of humanity, of going above-and-beyond just because."

Kevin Hart returned to invite Chris Hemsworth out to talk about the health and wellness app Centr, which helps create healthy habits with its digital platform and range of fitness equipment, all coming to Walmart.

Kevin introduced a second Chris: Chris Evans. Not much could be more fitting than these two silver screen superheroes sharing the stage before a crowd of associate superheroes (some with capes to boot!).

Chris tugged associates’ heartstrings with his story about his rescue dog and new dog food brand called Jinx. Kevin delivered a little energy boost in the form of VitaHustle, his new line of superfood drinks and supplements. 

And speaking of a big energy boost, Snoop Dogg took the floor to deliver a fantastic performance that had the crowd screaming with excitement.

Marcie Bird, manager of Store 906 in Gallup, New Mexico, introduced John Furner, CEO of Walmart U.S. John took us on a whirlwind cross-country journey.

First stop, Arkansas (naturally!), where farmers grow rice that Walmart sells, supporting vital jobs in the state.

Next, we hopped to California, where new technology helps associates move two times more products than a traditional grocery distribution center. “It’s people-led and technology-powered,” John said.

Off to New Jersey we went, where a newly remodeled flagship Supercenter features an integrated shopping experience with Walmart’s app.

Last stop, Arizona, where John highlighted a perfect example of “an omnichannel customer.” “He doesn’t think of us as Walmart stores and and Walmart Health. He thinks of us as ‘Walmart,’” John explained.

What did this cross-country tour teach us?

“When you get around to these communities, you’ll see amazing things. Beautiful landscapes, a diversity of people and cultures and so much opportunity,” John said. “As Walmart associates, we have an opportunity to work together as an omni-channel retailer. From coast to coast. And help the people of this country save money and live better.”

Greg returned to announce the winner of the Sam M. Walton Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Prathibha Rajashekhar, senior vice president Innovation & Automation, was honored for leading her team in redesigning the Member’s Mark private brand to become a purpose-driven brand “Made with Our Member and Planet in Mind".

Rachel Platten played piano and serenaded the crowd with her hit song, “Stand By You.” A fitting anthem for associates who support one another and serve customers every day.

Next, 40-year associate Donna Turner brought Doug back to the stage. Doug started a speech about making the impossible possible, when — speaking of impossible missions — he was interrupted by a call from none other than Tom Cruise! “Walmart associates, please keep it up. Keep doing what you do,” Tom said. 

But that’s not all. Tom has sent “a little something” in the form of a mission of our own: “Make the impossible possible.”

“Do we accept it?” Doug asked. “Of course we do!” 

“We do it by doubling down on being a people-led, tech-powered, omnichannel retailer dedicated to helping people save money and live better. We know who we are. We like who we are. And, we like who we’re becoming,” Doug said.

“Change has always been part of our DNA and with the changes we’re making, we can take it to the next level,” he said.

How do associates make the impossible possible? Doug reminded us that through monumental challenges like a pandemic, international strife, financial shocks and more, “you worked to keep yourselves and our customers safe while delivering financial results and progressing our strategy to transform our company at the same time.”

“To first reach $125 billion in revenue, it took us 36 years. You all just grew by that much in three years.”

Doug highlighted the inspiring work our suppliers are doing toward the goal of becoming regenerative or having a net positive impact on people and the planet. He thanked suppliers: “Due to their creativity and hard work, we’re three-quarters of the way toward our goal of reducing or avoiding 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gasses by 2030 from global supply chains through Project Gigaton.”

Impossible? Meet associates, and they’ll show you what’s really possible.

Take Sam's Club 8244 Oramis Lopez, as an example. Oramis became the very first (and we’re guessing here) associate promoted by Tom Cruise.

And what could top a feeling like that? Probably nothing. But the closest thing to it was likely the feeling when none other than Mr. Worldwide Pitbull took the stage to deliver an exhilarating closing performance.

From beginning to end, the celebration truly was “a moment,” as Kevin Hart put it. A celebration befitting the superheroes you are!

Read more about all things Associates Week 2023 right here