Powered by Walmart: Building Continuity among Strong Local Retail Businesses around the World

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jay Mealing is senior director of global security for Walmart International. Over his career, he’s held numerous roles in Walmart US and Walmart International. His international perspective focuses on developing local teams to manage the business without outside support while still actively integrating into corporate systems and processes. His specialties include international business integrations, international retail, regulatory compliance, process management, project management, asset protection, and security.

EDITOR: What is your background?
MEALING: I’m the typical Walmart Cinderella story. I started in the Garden Center as an hourly associate in 1990 at a store in Columbia, South Carolina. I went into the operational management program shortly thereafter and was in operations in the US for about five years. During that time, I learned the asset protection side of the world and joined the US loss prevention team in 1995. Yes, it was so long ago we still called it loss prevention. After supporting a couple of international trips and helping on some reviews in Mexico and in Puerto Rico, they asked me to join the international division, where I’ve now been for twenty-one years.

My first long-term international stint was in Germany back in 1999 as an asset protection manager. Later the same year, I moved over to Puerto Rico to run the AP/security program, and then toward the end of 2001, I transferred over to our business in Mexico to take on the same responsibilities for WalMex. When I returned to the US in 2005, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and moved over to a new role in international integrations, an area created to help improve the transition of our international acquisitions into the Walmart world. My focus there was governance—how to put in place our global programs focused on protecting our businesses and brand. I wasn’t the subject-matter expert but was tasked with coordinating the implementation of our compliance-based programs. After seven years in that area and the opportunity to work through our acquisitions in Central America, Chile, South Africa, and a couple of other projects, I was asked to come back and lead the LATAM [Latin American] region for international asset protection. And then in 2015, I went back to Mexico for another three-and-a-half years, and I have now been back in the US for about a year. So, yes, it’s been a wild ride and one that I never would have imagined when I walked in the door of that store in South Carolina back in 1990.

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EDITOR: Do you have a family, and has your family traveled with you?
MEALING: I met Michelle, my wife, when I was in Puerto Rico. We married shortly after I moved to Mexico. Our first child, Maxwell, was born while we were there, so he has dual citizenship. Our second, Myles, was born six years later in Arkansas. It was a full-blown family move when we went back to Mexico on the latest assignment. Michelle is also a Walmart associate in human resources, so we were both working while we were there—a two for one if you will.

EDITOR: What is the overall scope and strategy of your role at Walmart?
MEALING: Our overall Walmart International strategy is to utilize our buying power, tools, technology, and subject-matter expertise with the idea of supporting “strong local retail businesses” that are “powered by Walmart.” Finding the best way to fit security into that strategy has been a critical challenge because we’ve never approached the international security business in a powered by Walmart manner. In the past, we simply asked them to keep us aware of any incidents and to let us know if they needed any help. This helped us ensure that there was good talent in the markets but did nothing to support our global programs or leverage what was available.

When I stepped into this role, we started to refocus on automation and governance. How do I provide local businesses with technology that allows them, for example, to capture and research incidents within their markets? How do I get those tools to them leveraging Walmart’s buying power? I want to provide them with tools that help them do their business faster, easier, cheaper, or all the above. But at the same time, I want the ability to go in and run data analytics or measure compliance to our governance programs without having to ask them for it. So our primary strategy is to drive consistency through technology and provide guidance based on intelligence that we’re able to gather from the markets—the age-old concept of thinking globally and acting locally.

EDITOR: When you are working with the retail side in the international group, what specific things are you trying to help them with?
MEALING: Primarily technology. I don’t want to tell them how to manage risk assessment within their market. I don’t want to assume that I know the India market better than my Indian counterparts, for example. Our goal is to give them tools that are effective, efficient, and reliable, so they can do it themselves. As we roll out those tools, we also get more consistency.

EDITOR: Give us an example.
MEALING: A great example would be our business continuity planning (BCP) tool, which is a platform that was developed in Bentonville. Every single market uses it—retail and nonretail. All our BCP plans are captured inside of this platform. The businesses can manage it, maintain it, and update it. They can run their tabletops and manage all of their communications with it, and we have central visibility to help make sure that everyone is executing as defined by the global standards.

EDITOR: What staff do you have to help you get the job done?
MEALING: I have a team around the world. I have a regional manager for Asia, one for EMEA [Europe, the Middle East, and Africa], and another for Latin America. Then I have a small staff in Bentonville that helps manage operational aspects and training, with a heavy focus on the product management side—meaning the platforms and adjustments required to get products and systems integrations into the markets. We also directly manage the global Travel Safe program. On the retail side, each retail market has its own loss prevention security staff organizational chart.

EDITOR: Talk about your successes. What have you implemented that you are most proud of?
MEALING: I don’t want to say that these are my successes, but there are things that we have accomplished as a team that I am proud of. One that I’m awfully proud of is our Travel Safe program. The way that we manage, track, and communicate with international travelers and expatriates is very well organized. If an incident occurs in a particular area, we have a smartphone application that will automatically send updates to those working or traveling in that area, as long as they have their location turned on, or because our system is also linked to their travel itineraries, they will receive an email informing them of the situation.

We use a third party to help us with the platform and some of the intelligence, and we’ve tweaked it to fit Walmart’s needs. There is also a PC-based side where I can go in and see who is traveling where and when, and what type of incidents are occurring around the world. The travelers can use the app to check in, mark if they are in trouble, or simply receive notifications on relevant incidents in the area where they’re traveling.

For example, recently a gentleman who was traveling in the UK had a medical emergency. We were able to communicate, contact, and coordinate with him and the local business to ensure that he was taken care of while he was there. With all the disruptions around the world, these tools give us the ability to identify when people are close to high-risk activities or occurrences and communicate with them directly. We’ve helped multiple associates get out of areas that had become less safe in a short period of time.

I mentioned BCP earlier, which is our business continuity planning program. Again, I think what I love about our BCP program is that the only thing we provide from Bentonville is the platform. Beyond that, it is completely up to the markets to determine their critical business needs and their recovery plans. We give them guidance based on other markets, and they manage the specific local needs. It’s a great example of “strong local business.” I don’t try to tell them what systems they must use, and if it goes down, here’s plan B. Those decisions are made by the market, and we provide a platform that helps them capture, manage, maintain, and utilize their own information.

Those are a couple of great examples of the “powered by Walmart” approach, and we are continually looking to expand the strategy for other activities such as incident management and facility security risk management auditing. These are things that everyone already does—we’re just giving them ways to do it better, simpler, and/or in a more digital manner.

EDITOR: Say I’m a buyer for Walmart, and I need to go from Bentonville to Mexico, for example. I assume I don’t just buy a ticket and fly. What is the process?
MEALING: It’s completely seamless to the traveler. You book a trip through our travel system, and then you’d get an automated email that basically says, “We see that you’re going to Mexico. Here is everything that you need to understand about the market that you’re traveling to and who to contact if you have any trouble.” And even though we do offer one-on-one discussions for anyone who would like additional information, whether that be additional information about the market or how to download and use the smartphone app, a lot of it is automated simply because we don’t have security staff located everywhere our associates might be traveling from.

We do have some countries that are banned currently, so we will not allow you to travel into certain countries right now, but these are few and far between. And we do have certain countries that we consider “restricted” that require additional scrutiny and communication about traveling into those locations.

You have to remember that our travelers are not just from Bentonville, Arkansas. If I’m telling a Mexican national where he or she shouldn’t go in Mexico, I get a dirty look. So we try to be very mindful about our perceptions of the markets because we are catering to travelers from around the world. We try to avoid saying, “No, you can’t travel there,” because we still have business to conduct. Our focus is to ensure that they understand the risks and to provide guidance on how best to avoid risks and what to do if they need help. We need to enable the business, not hinder it.

EDITOR: Are many or most of your programs duplicated in the US marketplace?
MEALING: They are, but you’d be surprised—or maybe you wouldn’t be—that a lot of the things we do in the US could be seen as status quo. Many of the programs and processes utilized in our domestic business have been in place for a long time, and everybody understands them. But the feedback that we’re getting from some of our markets and acquisitions as we expand these programs is, “We understand what you’re going after, but it’s not user friendly. If you want us to adopt it, you better improve it.” This interaction is helping us to improve the tools we all use, so it’s a win-win for the domestic side of the business and international. Just because we are comfortable with an existing system doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best thing out there.

We’re aiming for consistency, and due to our size, we continue to find duplicate systems or processes, which applies to our US business as well as international. We’re continually looking for the best ways to consolidate and create consistency in what we do while allowing flexibility to the markets. If it’s not relevant to the user, they won’t use it. International and the US security groups have always worked in their own silos, but I see us finally starting to understand things globally. It’s a busy but exciting time.

EDITOR: How do you measure success or outstanding performance?
MEALING: It’s defined up front in a list of objectives for the year. What products do we want to get to the markets? What can we provide to make them more effective in protecting our associates or the business? I have little to no control over how many incidents occurred around the world. But did we provide effective intelligence? Did we provide them with simple and effective tools, and are our markets taking advantage of the technology we are offering? You can compare it to any other operational function, similar to shrink, for example. How could anyone truly impact the shrink in Chile if they are in Bentonville? It has to be managed locally. We’re approaching security in the same way. Our success is measured by how effectively we implement processes or tools and how well we train the markets on the utilization.

EDITOR: Since you have such a broad span of control across the whole world, are there certain markets that are more challenging than others?
MEALING: The challenges are just different. There is organized retail crime, like in the US, but the other challenges are very distinct market to market. Gang violence, kidnapping, and political unrest seem to be constant in Latin America. In the Middle East, it’s mostly focused on ensuring that our intelligence is effective in keeping our travelers safe. We have a lot of sourcing that takes place in the Middle East, and we don’t want our travelers wandering into higher-risk territories. Risk changes almost overnight in certain countries, so we are constantly monitoring our environments. In China and Japan, the focus is primarily business continuity planning due to the higher risk of natural disasters. We need to ensure that they have effective crisis management plans and emergency response plans in place to get the business back up and running should an incident occur.

EDITOR: Obviously, ORC is a big deal in the United States right now and has been for several years. Do those groups function similarly in other parts of the world, or does it manifest itself differently?
MEALING: It’s relatively similar in the UK, Canada, and the US, but there are some scenarios in other markets that are different. ORC in Mexico leans heavily toward credit card fraud, to the point in certain areas of the country that we had to put in additional security because certain organized groups were threatening our store associates. And due to the laws, when we would try to prosecute, the police would say, “Well, you weren’t impacted. It wasn’t a crime against you, so you can’t file charges.”

It’s definitely a challenge when you have to define how to protect your people and your business when you have someone coming into a store and basically saying, “Open up a register for me so that I can use all of these fraudulent credit cards to buy the merchandise that I want.” At one store several years back, they would come in and say, “I don’t even want the merchandise. I’m just going to ring up a bunch of transactions on these cards, and then give me a cash refund.” How do you approach a situation like that?

We had to engage the banks and identify the stores that were targeted more frequently. We had to use federal charges and actually file the complaints through an office in Mexico City, even if the fraudsters were working in another part of the country. And we couldn’t do it without the banks’ support.

When I first got to Mexico, we had multiple cases of people setting up small illegal gambling rings in our parking lots. My first thought was, “Really?” At first, we asked the store manager to run them off. That didn’t work. It became confrontational with threats of violence. We were putting our people at risk, so we had to design a way to manage around those types of circumstances.

Today our managers report these types of situations to our emergency operations center. The EOC then contacts the local or state police in the area, and the authorities then come in and manage it for us. It’s a longer, slower process, but it goes back to how to avoid the conflict. How do I make sure I’m taking care of my customer or my associate and that I’m not putting someone at risk? What we found was that we eliminated the confrontations and typically would keep them off of our property for a lot longer.

Transportation theft is also quite frequent in some of our markets, so we have developed different tracking methods to help us combat the issues. Working with some third parties, we’ve developed routing systems. For example, I get a notification that the truck has an exception if it goes off route and makes an unscheduled stop. When you’re managing thousands of trucks every month, you can’t track them individually. You have to develop ways that help you identify the exceptions and allow your teams to aggressively manage those.

EDITOR: Do you share information or have dialogue about incidents or various applications with other retailers?
MEALING: We do a lot with the US Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) and the Latin American Regional Council (LARC). We also do a lot directly with the US Diplomatic Security Service’s regional security offices around the world. A lot of our benchmarking is not necessarily with retailers but with other large multinational companies. We find that we get better information from other multinational companies as there isn’t really another multinational retailer that has the same scope that we do. With that said, our local teams benchmark with the retailers in their respective markets. Security has no ties to trade secrets, so we learn a lot from each other.

EDITOR: Do you have mentors who have helped you along your way in your career?
MEALING: Wow. There are too many to count. Everyone from my first store manager to the peers that I work with today, but there are several learnings that I live by. This may sound a bit cliché, but the one who always challenged my thinking or changed my thinking was Doug McMillan, the president and CEO of Walmart Inc. He was the CEO of Walmart International while I was working on integrations. The conversations we had always challenged me to rethink my approach to the business, to think about the steps we need in place before we move forward, before we can do business, before we can comfortably go out there and put ourselves in front of a customer. What are those baselines? What are those compliance issues or systems that we need to have in place before we even have the right to do business? People always want to jump to the end state, but we don’t necessarily map it out the right way or put all the things in place that we need to, and Doug always challenged us to do that.

Another is Barry Nelson, the first operational district manager that I worked with in Savannah, Georgia. I was a new loss prevention district manager at the time, and Barry was a seasoned veteran in the business. He would say to me, “Jay, you don’t speak our language. You’re talking about how many accidents we had. You’re talking about how many pieces of product we lost. You’re talking about how many security guards or cameras you need. You need to speak my language.” What he was teaching me was how to convert everything that we were working on to value, how to talk about the payback instead of the cameras. What’s the investment? How long is that payback going to take? What financial benefit am I going to generate for the company if I spend the money you’re asking for? What is the cost of an accident? How do we tie it all back to the bottom line? And that is another piece that has always stuck with me.

I will use shrink as the example again. Everybody wants to talk about a shrink line, and we did for years. Barry challenged my thought on that. He’d say, “Well, if the shrink line decreases and the markdown line increases, how does that help my bottom line? Let’s quit talking about this shrink stuff and talk about profitability.”

EDITOR: So you’ve approached your business as a businessperson with profit and the customer probably being seen higher on the list than the security aspect. Is that correct?
MEALING: In reality, yes. It’s kind of like catching shoplifters. Catching a whole bunch of shoplifters is not necessarily a good thing. It’s better to have the right controls in place so that you don’t have to catch shoplifters. If you focus on that preemptive approach, then it typically turns out better for you in the long run. My approach to thinking about the customer, thinking about those baseline aspects that need to be in place before we do business, thinking about the value aspects of the work that we do—that preemptive work has to be done correctly so that we’re not chasing, but instead working on preventing. There will always be fires that need to be controlled or put out, but that should not be what we do on a daily basis.

EDITOR: With all that travel that you’ve done over the years, do you have a favorite spot where you’ve worked and lived?
MEALING: I’ll always love Puerto Rico. Obviously, my wife is from there, but I also love to fish and dive, so Puerto Rico was a pretty good spot. But I also love Mexico. We spent a lot of time on the various coasts of Mexico as well as many of the internal cities in Mexico, the “magic cities” or pueblos magicos as they call them. We really enjoyed our time there.

EDITOR: Is there something we missed that you’d like to talk about related to your job and the contribution you and your people make to the company?
MEALING: I obviously couldn’t do it without the team. It’s a very collaborative effort from that perspective, and I don’t want to miss that. I think the other thing that I don’t want to miss is the fact that Walmart has allowed me to do this.

You know, I was a country boy from South Carolina. I guess I’m still a country boy from South Carolina, but Walmart allowed me to make mistakes. They allowed me to try the things that may not work. They’ve given me the flexibility and the trust to go build programs when sometimes we didn’t know what we needed to do. And that says a lot about this company. It says a lot about the leadership and the fact that they allowed me take risks and grow by learning along the way. I didn’t step in with a government security background or expertise. It was Walmart seeing the capacity, seeing the ability, seeing what we could do as a team, that allowed us to get to the level we are today.

EDITOR: You have a fascinating job, Jay. A fascinating job.
MEALING: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. It still amazes me that as long as we’ve been international, there is still so much that we could do, so much that we can improve upon. But we do have some great talent in the markets, and that helps a lot.

Like I said, I get a lot of feedback from the people who are out there with boots on the ground, and they really challenge our thinking for the better. It’s not just coming out of Bentonville, where things are safe. The priorities are completely different to someone in these markets, and we need to have that perspective if we’re going to do it right.

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