Martin's drive and exacting style earned him considerable influence, not only within Wal-Mart but also beyond.
By Jennifer Bresnahan
President and CEO, Wal-Mart International, Bentonville, Ark.
Several positions with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., including executive vice president and CIO
Director of MIS, Dillard Department Stores
Attended South Texas University; honorary doctorate from Southwest Baptist University
To hear Bob Martin tell it, he didn’t have much to do with Wal-Mart’s success in single-handedly revolutionizing the retail industry. He admits it was IT that enabled the company to squeeze out every last inefficiency from the merchandising chain. And that systems such as Wal-Mart’s continuous replenishment application were the fuel behind the company’s ascendancy. But despite the fact that he was CIO during this process, Martin won’t take any credit personally. “I don’t like that much attention brought to myself,” he explains. “Everything we achieved happened out of a very talented group of people. I was fortunate to get the best people and have them in an environment where change was a mandate.”
While there’s no doubt that the dedication of Martin’s colleagues and employees was integral to Wal-Mart’s success, or that Wal-Mart’s team-based culture values collaboration more than individual achievement, Martin’s version of the story doesn’t do him justice. “Without a Bobby Martin, so many of those things just wouldn’t have happened,” says Bernard Puckett, former senior vice president of strategy and business development at IBM Corp., who was assigned to cultivate IBM’s relationship with Wal-Mart. Martin’s unassuming nature is just one of many traits that have won him the respect of people like Puckett. “Bobby’s an outstanding person and a wonderful friend,” Puckett says. “You can’t say the same about too many other CIOs.”
Martin didn’t come by this regard easily. As head of IS in an organization hellbent on change, he had his work cut out for him. “This is a company with a tremendous appetite for innovation, and that puts a big challenge back to IS as a support organization,” he says. Martin attacked the job of enabling Wal-Mart’s phenomenal growth with relentless energy and brutally high standards for himself and those around him. “He’s not someone who will tolerate anybody who’s not as dedicated to getting the job done as he is,” says Randy Mott, Martin’s successor as senior vice president and CIO.
Martin’s principal demand was that the IS organization understand the business and the retail industry. “I wrote this on the wall with our whole technology division, that we were retailers first and the technology side came second,” he says. To that end, he insisted that all his people spend at least a weekend working in a Wal-Mart store during the busy holiday season so that they could appreciate what the store workers were up against. As for Martin himself, “he spent more time in our stores than any CIO I know of,” says Don Soderquist, Wal-Mart’s vice chairman and chief operating officer.
Martin’s drive and exacting style earned him considerable influence, not only within Wal-Mart but also beyond. An avid spokesman for IT’s power to effect business change, he helped transform the retail industry by helping to found and chair the Industry Standards development for EDI and retail scanning networks. In addition, he pushed vendors and suppliers to keep up with Wal-Mart and deliver nothing less than state-of-the-art. “The power of his personality was such that you responded,” says Puckett.
Now Martin–living proof that CIO doesn’t necessarily mean “career is over”–is putting the heat on Mott to deliver cutting-edge IT solutions for Wal-Mart’s international business. “Bobby’s never satisfied with a day,” says Mott. “He is extremely tough on himself and is probably never satisfied with what he got accomplished at the end of each day.”
See a 2007 update with Bob Martin, as he looks back on the last 20 years of change and challenges in IT.