Journalism in the Public Interest

Advice From Walmart Exec at Center of Scandal: ‘Personal Integrity’ is Key

The Walmart exec, Eduardo Castro-Wright, in a 2009 interview extolled integrity and a “passion for winning.” 

Eduardo Castro-Wright, then president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores USA, speaks in Los Angeles on Oct. 21, 2008. (David McNew/Getty Images)

In a 7,000-word blockbuster Sunday, The New York Times reported that Walmart allegedly engaged in a vast campaign of bribery to expand the company's Mexico business in the early 2000s, potentially violating U.S. law. The scheme was allegedly overseen by a Walmart executive, Eduardo Castro-Wright, described by The Times as "the driving force behind years of bribery" totaling millions of dollars.

Three years ago, Castro-Wright himself gave an interview to The Times in which he offered a somewhat different picture of his leadership style.

Castro-Wright sat for an interview in 2009 as part of The Times' "Corner Office" series in which top executives talk "about leadership and management." The Times asked Castro-Wright: "What message would you convey in a commencement speech?" He responded:

"Here in the United States, and any of the developed countries, I would tend to provide a speech along the lines of what I said before about what makes great leaders — the fact that there's no leader who can be called one if they don't have personal integrity, or if they don't deliver results, or if they don't care about the people they lead, or if they don't have a passion for winning."

Asked about the “most important leadership lesson” he’d learned in his career, Castro-Wright emphasized trust:

"There's nothing that destroys credibility more than not being able to look someone in the eye and have them know that they can trust you. Leadership is about trust. It's about being able to get people to go to places they never thought they could go. They can't do that if they don't trust you."

The Times interview ran under the headline "In a Word, He Wants Simplicity" about five years after the period in which Castro-Wright had allegedly overseen systematic bribery.

In its front-page story yesterday, The Times quoted former Wal-Mart de Mexico executive Sergio Cicero Zapata alleging how and why Castro-Wright had authorized bribery:

In an interview with The Times, Mr. Cicero said Mr. Castro-Wright had encouraged the payments for a specific strategic purpose. The idea, he said, was to build hundreds of new stores so fast that competitors would not have time to react. Bribes, he explained, accelerated growth. They got zoning maps changed. They made environmental objections vanish. Permits that typically took months to process magically materialized in days. "What we were buying was time," he said.

The meteoric growth of the company's Mexican business translated into promotions for Castro-Wright. In 2005, he was appointed head of Walmart U.S., and in 2008 to his current position as vice chairman of Walmart and CEO of its global ecommerce business.

Walmart announced in September 2011 that Castro-Wright would retire this July. The company's bio page that shows up as the second hit for Castro-Wright's name on a Google search is now blank. Company spokeswoman Ashley Hardie told ProPublica that the page had been taken down after the announcement last September. Castro-Wright is also on the boards of insurer MetLife and the charity CARE.

Walmart has posted a statement on the Times piece, saying that it is "working aggressively to determine what happened" and that "if these allegations are true, it is not a reflection of who we are or what we stand for." The company informed the Justice Department of an internal investigation in December after it learned of The Times' reporting, according to the paper.

Leadership is about integrity.  If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

In fairness, integrity doesn’t necessarily have to mean following the law.  I don’t agree with what he (allegedly) did at all, mind you, but nothing about bribes is necessarily inconsistent with having personal integrity (if you believe in bribery), delivering results, caring about your employees, or wanting to succeed.

“these allegations are true, it is not a reflection of who we are or what we stand for.”

That, however, is exactly wrong.  They hired him.  They put him in charge.  What he does is exactly a reflection of what they stand for, and their job is to change what they stand for, rather than deny the connection.

Stephanie Palmer

April 24, 2012, 2:56 p.m.

If the execs at Walmart think that they will find integrity there, they are truly misinformed.

I read the Times article and was surprised (again) that he paper didn’t delve into the types of laws and regulations Walmart was avoiding. The general terms used were “zoning” and “environmental” and “land use” with no explanation of what those words specifically included.

I propose that many of those laws and regulations were propagated to invite bribery. The terms and conditions were (are) made so onerous that for any business to succeed bribery becomes necessary.

I also propose that this is the same system that is used in the United States, especially in New York City where the Times is based. The differences are in the areas of bribery.

Corruption rules the day. The Times could use all its investigative resources in New York and have a field day. I submit that the paper willfully chooses to ignore the political, financial and social corruption in its home city.

Theodore Wirth

April 26, 2012, 1:07 p.m.

I am judge and jury. I sentence Castro-Wright to walk the streets of Sanford at night, clad in a hoodie.

I think we refer to this process in the US as lobbying.

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