David Glass was tough and smart

First impression stood test of time

Go back to 1984. I am sitting in a chair just outside David Glass's office at the Walmart Home Office waiting to see him, and I am not happy. Although I didn't even know his name until 10 minutes earlier, I had no enthusiasm to speak with him. His title was chief financial officer, which made him technically the No. 3 man in the company. "Mr. Glass will see you now," his assistant said shortly. Straightening my tie, I stood up and strode into his office. Little did I realize my life was going to change fundamentally after our visit. But first, a few words about my attitude that day.

I had flown into town to interview for a job as real estate manager with Walmart. I had spent most of the next day talking with Tom Seay, the vice president of real estate, about the job, and things had gone very well. Tom told me after lunch that Walmart had a policy that any new office hire had to be personally interviewed and approved by none other than the founder of the company: Sam Walton. My heart raced at the thought of meeting Sam Walton. Many of my friends when they heard of my upcoming interview had asked if I would get to meet this legend-in-the-making, and now he was going to interview me! "But he is out of town this week on a store trip," Tom went on, "as is our COO, but fortunately our CFO, David Glass, is here, and he will interview to you." Talk about a letdown!

Walking into Mr. Glass's office, I found a smallish man with peppered black and white hair that seemed to have lost a bout with a comb earlier that day. He smiled at me with what I would call a crooked grin, but there was no escaping those eyes: bright, piercing, probing. Game on. Gently but firmly he went through many questions, asking my opinion on my soon-to-be-former company and the retail business in general. We shook hands, and I left thinking, "Well, that wasn't what I expected." Many of the Walmart people that I had met earlier that day exuded a certain physical toughness in their posture. Despite his unassuming appearance, David Glass seemed even tougher. Soon I would learn that firsthand.

In one of my first real estate committee presentations, I was presenting a store for Cleveland, Tenn. I mentioned the population of the town was 26,000 people. Shortly afterwards, Mr. Glass, sitting alongside Sam Walton and the other executives at the front of the table where I spoke, mentioned to the group that he thought this would be a good store and the population of the town "was 25,000 and growing." Without missing a beat, I blurted out, "That's 26,000, Mr. Glass." Giving me that sideways smile, he immediately replied: "Well, if Sey will allow me, the population is 25,000 and growing." My deal was approved and for days, my fellow workers would stroll by my desk and ask, "Hey Sey, how many people live in Cleveland?" Lesson learned. There would be many others.

In 1988, David Glass was promoted to president and CEO of Walmart. Now my former disappointment became a source of pride. "You know," I would tell co-workers, "Mr. Glass personally hired me." I would spend over a decade meeting with him once a month, sometimes traveling with him, sometimes getting grilled by him. He was tough, he was smart, he accepted no excuses.

RIP, Mr. Glass.

NAN Our Town on 02/06/2020

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