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Walmart shareholders approve directors, discuss worker safety amid rising gun violence

Walmart, which is the largest retailer in the world, is headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas. During the past shareholder meeting, the company approved one-year terms for board members.

Wednesday’s (May 31) annual business meeting for Walmart Inc. shareholders went as expected. The meeting was held virtually and lasted about an hour, and included a question-and-answer session with shareholders.

Having gone public in 1970, the first meeting of shareholders took place in Bentonville, with 16 attending the public offering 53 years ago. Wednesday’s meeting was called to order by board chairman Greg Penner at 10:32 a.m.

Shareholders had positive news to celebrate. For fiscal 2023, Walmart reported record revenue of $611.3 billion, up 6.7% year over year. Net income was $11.68 billion, down 14.6% from the prior record pandemic year. But stronger than expected first-quarter results reported in early May included Walmart upgrading its earnings guidance for fiscal 2024 that will end Feb. 1, 2024. The retail giant said it expects net sales growth of 3.5% this year with adjusted earnings per share between $6.10 to $6.20, better than previous $5.99 per share expectations from analysts.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the retailer had posted annual sales growth of 6.5% in the past six years, excluding divestitures. He said Walmart continues its transformation to a leading omnichannel retailer, with 15% of sales that began in a digital format to start this year.

With a virtual quorum present, shareholders approved a slate of 11 directors to one-year terms, approved the 1-year frequency of voting for executive compensation, approved executive compensation, and ratified the appointment of Ernst & Young as the company’s independent accountant for fiscal 2024.

There were nine proposals brought by shareholders that were not approved. Walmart advised shareholders in the proxy filing to vote against outside proposals. The proposals dealt with more equity in pay across the company, more disclosure into company policies and procedures on reporting human rights issues, discrimination in hiring and firing based on race and sex, changing bylaws on how directors are chosen, and more clarity on how Walmart plans to protect privacy on reproductive health choices of customers now that abortion has been criminalized in many states.

Shareholders also asked Walmart to provide updates on workplace safety policies and procedures and human rights violations in China. Also, there was a floor proposal asking the retailer to report funding to any political action committees that incited the Jan. 6, 2021, violence in Washington, D.C.

Walmart said the company already has safeguards, policies and procedures in place that address each of the proposals.

It’s easy for Walmart to block proposals brought by outside shareholders, given that the board, executives and Walmart family members control more than 50% of the outstanding voting stock. The institutional owners of Walmart shares include the Vanguard Group at roughly 4.6%, Blackrock Fund at 2.39% and SSgA Funds at 2.23%. Walmart is one of the most widely-held common stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange, with 2.696 billion shares outstanding.

In the question-and-answer session, Walmart executives were again asked about protecting workers against gun violence in its U.S. stores. The execs said protecting workers and customers is a top priority. Given the rise in gun violence, McMillon said the company is seeking additional third-party input to address store safety.

A study by Guns Down America between Jan. 1, 2020, and Nov. 22, 2022, identified 363 shootings at Walmart stores, resulting in 112 deaths. The study found 536 shooting incidents resulting in 186 deaths in the nation’s 12 largest grocery chains. Kroger followed Walmart with 45 gun incidents resulting in 20 deaths.

Following are the directors elected for one-year terms.
Cesar Conde, age 49, chairman of NBCUniversal News Group
Timothy Flynn, 66, retired chairman of KPMG
Sarah Friar, 50, CEO of Nextdoor Holding
Carla Harris, 60, senior client advisor at Morgan Stanley
Thomas Horton, 61, retired chairman of American Airlines
Marissa Mayer, 47, founder of Sunshine Products, former CEO of Yahoo!
Doug McMillon, 58, CEO of Walmart
Greg Penner, 53, CEO of Denver Broncos, son-in-law of Rob Walton
Randall Stephenson, age 62, retired chairman AT&T
Rob Walton, 78, retired Walmart chairman, owner Denver Broncos
Steuart Walton, 41, founder RZC Investments, grandson of Helen and Sam Walton