The Walton family is the wealthiest family in the world, with a combined $151.5 billion net worth. I’ll let that staggering amount sink in for a moment. The Walton family fortune comes, of course, from the family business. You may have heard of it. It is a little store called Walmart. The members of the Walton family are the retail behemoth’s largest shareholders. The family holds more than 50% of the stock in the company. Sam Walton opened the first Wal-Mart store in Rogers, Arkansas in 1962. Today, Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retail company with stores all over the world.
Sam Walton was born in 1918 near Kingfisher, Oklahoma as the son of a small farmer who gave up farming for a more profitable career as a mortgage broker (for farms). This gave the family enough money that Sam was able to graduate high school and attend the University of Missouri during the Great Depression. He graduated in 1940 with a degree in Economics and immediately began working as a management trainee for J.C. Penney in Iowa. A year and a half later, he joined the Army and was a part of the U.S. Army Intelligence Corps during World War II.
His first store was a Ben Franklin franchise in Newport, Arkansas. Walton ran his variety store differently from the others in the Ben Franklin chain. He stocked a variety of items, and always made sure the shelves were full. His Ben Franklin location began making about $225,000 per year in revenue. Rather than renew his lease, the owners bought it back from him for $50,000. He took the money and with a $20,000 loan from his father-in-law he leased another store in a different part of Arkansas and negotiated a 99-year lease. Within three years, he was bringing in $175,000—more than double the store’s revenue before he took over.
By the mid 1950s, Sam expanded his budding retail empire to Missouri and brought his brother Bud into the company to help. Over the next eight years, the Walton brothers opened 16 stores. By 1962 it was clear to Sam that he should start his own store, so he opened the first Wal-Mart Discount City in Rogers, Arkansas. His was a different kind of store. He sought out American manufacturers. He opened his stores in small towns that weren’t far from his regional warehouses. He started his own trucking service to transport merchandise. By 1985, there were 800 Wal-Mart stores.
Sam Walton died in 1992. At the time, he was running 1,735 Wal-Mart stores, 212 Sam’s Club stores, and 13 Supercenters. Wal-Mart employed 380,000 people and earns an annual revenue of $50 billion.
When Sam died, he left his stake in the company to his wife Helen and four children, evenly split. Today roughly 50% of Walmart’s equity is controlled by four people: Rob, Jim, Alice, and Christy Walton.
Today, Walmart has 11,718 stores and clubs in 28 countries. Walmart is the world’s largest company by revenue with over $500 billion in 2018. Walmart is the largest private employer in the world with 2.3 million employees.