Mike Duke’s job as CEO of Walmart began with a flop.
Project Impact, a plan to streamline and brighten up stores, had actually dampened sales. Within a year, Duke turned that ship around by bringing back products and replacing executives.
Duke grew up in rural Georgia. In school, he excelled at math and science and threw himself into baseball and football.
A teammate remembers him as a smart, nice guy who brought more desire than talent to the game: “He was one of those players who just didn’t quit. He was tougher than he ought to have been on the field.”
By his senior year in high school, Duke had become a leader, winning election as class president and the sportsmanship award on his football team.
After studying industrial engineering at Georgia Tech, Duke went into retail and became a specialist in logistics. CEO Lee Scott recruited him in 1995 to be his deputy, running logistics for Walmart.
“I never actually thought about Mike working for me,” Scott says. “We worked together.”
Within months, Scott slid over to head up merchandising and Duke was promoted to run logistics. The pattern repeated as both men advanced. Thanks to Duke’s detail-mindedness with data and scheduling, Scott thinks his successor is a better manager than he was himself.
“Mike is disciplined,” says Scott, “and I think that causes him to be able to accomplish a great deal.
“Mike is not only a good leader but a really good manager,” he says. “There’s so much said today about. But I don’t think in business you can forget the fact that you don’t just have to lead, you have to manage.”
— Adapted from “Meet the CEO of the Biggest Company on Earth,” Brian O’Keefe, Fortune.