Walmart Just Announced an ‘Accelerated’ Program, and I Really Think You’re Going to Want to Copy It

This is a story about Walmart, recruiting, and a new program that sticks out precisely because Walmart is the company putting it into practice. 

Let’s start with some history and an observation. No matter what you think about Walmart, it’s notable that the current CEO, Doug McMillon, got his start with the company as a Walmart summer warehouse employee making $6.50 an hour.

After college and an MBA, he returned as an assistant store manager before rising through the ranks. He’s not alone; the CEO of Walmart US got his start as an hourly associate, for example, and the company’s CFO worked at Walmart for 15 years before being promoted to the C-suite.

It’s not just at the top, either. Last year, the New York Times reported that “more than 75 percent of managers in Walmart’s U.S. stores started as hourly employees.” Walmart itself cites a similar figure.

Contrast that to Amazon, which focused on recruiting “‘wicked smart’ frontline managers straight out of college,” and preferred to have lots of turnover among low-level employees, according to the same report, citing Amazon’s former H.R. vice president, David Niekerk.

There’s your context. And it’s why Walmart’s new College2Career program, which it announced earlier this month, jumped out at me.

Starting this summer, Walmart says it’s recruiting recent college graduates (those within 12 months of graduation, including those who might already be working as current store associates), for a new management pipeline program that holds the possibility of a very healthy salary and responsibility in a short period of time.

They’ll start in a newly created management job called “emerging coach,” paying $65,000 a year, with the goal of promoting these recent graduates to Walmart store managers — with an average annual salary of $210,000 — within just two years.

“We worked closely with several hundred colleges to attract over 300 current college students and around 600 recent college grads,” a Walmart spokesperson told me after I asked for more details, adding that they expect the “accelerated program” to fill “roughly 25 percent of management roles.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t making anywhere near a $210,000 annual salary, two years out of college (even adjusting for inflation). I also probably wouldn’t have thought of looking for a retail management pipeline position at a company like Walmart, even if I had known one existed.

But in researching a bit more about Walmart and McMillion and the company’s recruiting culture, I came across a description of what McMillion said during a trip to talk with students at Stanford University in 2015, just after he took over as Walmart CEO.

In short, he sounded like he wasn’t afraid to recruit young people who might never have thought of working at Walmart before:

“The startup thing sounds cool. But I haven’t heard of one yet that is more challenging than what we’re trying to do.

If you want hard, try to take a 52-year-old business that’s this size and change it. That’s hard. …

So if you want to work at Walmart, give me a call.”

Fast-forward to today’s job market, with unemployment at almost its lowest point in history, millions of employees leaving their jobs each month for greener pastures, and companies complaining that it’s hard even to get people even to apply for positions.

In Walmart’s eyes, I doubt the timing could possibly be much better. 

Simply by promising stability, growth, and significant financial rewards, Walmart makes a pretty intriguing sales proposition here. 

And while not every brand-new “emerging coach” will wind up rising through the ranks to become a Walmart store manager (or heck, maybe Walmart CEO, someday), it seems that packaging it all like this has already worked quite well.

All of which leaves us with one big question: Is this something people could replicate in other businesses? 

Because if you can predict the big roles you’ll want to fill a few years from now–even on a smaller scale–and figure out how to help people who are newer to the workforce to prepare and qualify for them, it sounds like a smart idea to copy Walmart’s program.

By the way, McMillion doesn’ have too many peers in terms of current Fortune 500 CEOs who started at the bottom at their company and worked their way up. But one who is often mentioned in the same breath with him is Mary Barra of GM.

If you want to see an interesting LinkedIn profile, hers starts in the 1980s when she was an 18-old intern at the company, and stretches through 12 promotions and nearly 40 years before topping it all off as CEO and chairman.

Come to think of it, while it’s an entirely different industry, the program through which Barra joined GM is philosophically similar to the new Walmart program.

There you go, case closed. Copy them both.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of