Walmart’s Asia Team Goes From Zero to Onboarded In Six Weeks

How do you go from zero to six senior-level e-commerce pros in six weeks?

That would be a tall order in Silicon Valley or Research Triangle. How about if you were in Hong Kong, the hiring executive is in San Francisco, the job is in China, and the req asks for Chinese-speaking, retail-savvy, online experienced, e-commerce marketers?

Simon Heaton, Walmart’s managing director in Asia, admits it isn’t easy. It was, he says, “difficult to do and difficult to repeat.” Yet, starting with a “a good clear brief as to what was needed,” Heaton and his team assembled a group of candidates, qualified them, and had everything ready when the decision-maker flew in for the interviews.

At the end of that six weeks, Walmart’s new e-commerce group for China was hired and onboarded. “It requires good alignment,” Heaton modestly explains.

Not even a year ago Heaton was working in Bentonville, Arkansas. Today, he’s building Walmart’s executive team in India, China, Japan, and wherever next in Asia the company grows.

Heaton made the move during a particularly trying time for Walmart Asia. In the spring, 24 of the company’s stores were in the area of the 9.0 earthquake to hit Japan. In the fall, the Chongqing city government shuttered 13 of the company’s stores for 15 days and fined the company in connection with food mislabeling and handling violations. Two of the company’s top executives resigned immediately after the penalties were announced.

Yet in the months since Heaton arrived he opened Walmart’s first Asia recruiting office, brought in a recruiting team, and filled several senior positions in Asia. He manages global executive recruiting and helps with best practices for the recruiting teams in each country. “We’re a bit of a center of excellence for them,” Heaton says.

Filling such senior positions — whether e-commerce, or, more commonly, VPs, SVPs, and occasionally senior or executive director — is not an easy task. The group’s focus is primarily external recruiting, and his most important tools are all social media, especially LinkedIn.

The UK native has been a headhunter as well as a corporate recruiter, and has recruited professionals from all over the world during his 20-year career. “It’s much easier to find people, people with specific talents, than it used to be,” Heaton explains.

In China and India in particular, he says, the corporate retail market is not well established. Finding executives with the background and the cultural knowledge necessary to be successful often means his team searches for expats with retail training.

“It’s much different than when all I had was a Rolodex,” says Heaton. Now, his team will typically turn to LinkedIn first to scour the planet to find the kind of professionals Walmart needs to be successful as it expands globally. Not all expats want to return to their home country; others simply aren’t interested in retail.

“I’m not going to go in with a hard sell to convince someone who doesn’t want to return,” say Heaton. Enough do, making repatriation a key source for the senior positions Heaton fills.

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One of the things that surprised him about recruiting overseas is how many people are connected to each other online. At a party thrown by a Hong Kong neighbor, he discovered several people with whom he had either a first- or second-degree connection. “Here,” he says, “You can quickly find someone who knows someone … people are very willing to share their network.”

Even early in his career back in the United Kingdom, Heaton knew he wanted to work globally. “I’ve always wanted to do a global role,” he says. To prepare, he would volunteer for projects that had a global component, and take on searches for overseas candidates or jobs.

“You kind of get a reputation for doing that kind of work,” he explains. So when an opportunity comes along, experience and reputation position you for the job.

That’s the path he recommends for others interested in working globally. “Put your hand up and volunteer to do the work,” he advises.”Network with your teams and colleagues. Help them when you can.”

With Walmart expanding rapidly — some reports, Heaton notes, say the company plans to nearly double in size to 4.3 million workers — there will be a need for talented in-house recruiters in the months and years ahead. Right now, he notes, the next recruiting team is being built for Latin America. Spanish is one of the requirements.

“Globalization is going to continue,” Heaton says. And that means opportunities for recruiters who want to work abroad will expand. Start building the contacts and developing the experience and smarts now for those overseas jobs in the future.

“The first contact is not always when you have a job,” Heaton says. He’s speaking specifically of how his Walmart team works, but his comments are relevant for recruiters thinking of an overseas career. “Make those contacts and stay connected.”

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


12 Comments on “Walmart’s Asia Team Goes From Zero to Onboarded In Six Weeks

  1. I wonder if Wal-Mart treats its overseas employees better than it treats its American ones?

    ” Wal-Mart employs more people than any other company in the United States outside of the Federal government, yet the majority of its employees with children live below the poverty line.”
    Employee and labor relations

    With close to two million employees worldwide, Walmart has faced a torrent of lawsuits and issues with regards to its workforce. These issues involve low wages, poor working conditions, inadequate health care, as well as issues involving the company’s strong anti-union policies. Critics point to Walmart’s high turnover rate as evidence of an unhappy workforce, although other factors may be involved. Approximately 70% of its employees leave within the first year.[38] Despite the turnover rate the company still is able to affect unemployment rates. This was found in a study by Oklahoma State University which states, “Walmart is found to have substantially lowered the relative unemployment rates of blacks in those counties where it is present, but to have had only a limited impact on relative incomes after the influences of other socio-economic variables were taken into account.”[39]
    [edit] Wages

    The activist group Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) said “in 2006 Walmart reports that full time hourly associates received, on average, $10.11 an hour.” It further calculated that working 34 hours per week an employee earns $17,874 per year and claimed that is about twenty percent less than the average retail worker. (The number of hours the “average retail worker” worked was not specified.) The report from LAANE further opines that this pay is “over $10,000 less than what the average two-person family needs.”[40] Walmart managers are judged, in part, based on their ability to control payroll costs. Some say this puts extra pressure on higher-paid workers to be more productive.[41]

    By contrast, Walmart insists its wages are generally in line with the current local market in retail labor,[42] although direct comparisons are complicated because Walmart employs more part time workers, and the company’s more extensive training, supervision, and automation provides opportunity to workers with little or no experience or skills, which may account for wage differences. Walmart grants “full time” benefits to those working as little as 34 hours per week, but does not limit workers to just 34 hours per week. The company does control labor costs by such ways as discouraging overtime, and by the use of “off the clock” labor. There have been numerous lawsuits against Walmart by former employees because of this problem.[43]

    Other critics have noted that in 2001, the average wage for a Walmart Sales Clerk was $8.23 per hour, or $13,861 a year, while the federal poverty line for a family of three was $14,630.[44] Walmart founder Sam Walton once said, “I pay low wages. I can take advantage of that. We’re going to be successful, but the basis is a very low-wage, low-benefit model of employment.”[45]

    In August 2006, Walmart announced that it would roll out an average pay increase of 6% for all new hires at 1,200 U.S. Walmart and Sam’s Club locations, but the same time would institute pay caps on veteran workers.[46] While Walmart maintains that the measures are necessary to stay competitive, critics believe that the salary caps are primarily an effort to push higher-paid veteran workers out of the company.[46]

    Because Walmart employs part-time and relatively low paid workers, some workers may partially qualify for state welfare programs. This has led critics to claim that Walmart increases the burden on taxpayer-funded services.[47][48] A 2002 survey by the state of Georgia’s subsidized healthcare system, PeachCare, found that Walmart was the largest private employer of parents of children enrolled in its program; one quarter of the employees of Georgia Walmarts qualified to enroll their children in the federal subsidized healthcare system Medicaid.[49] A 2004 study at the University of California, Berkeley charges that Walmart’s low wages and benefits are insufficient, and although decreasing the burden on the social safety net to some extent, California taxpayers still pay $86 million a year to Walmart employees.[50][51]
    [edit] Working conditions

    Walmart has also faced accusations involving poor working conditions of its employees. For example, a 2005 class action lawsuit in Missouri asserted approximately 160,000 to 200,000 people who were forced to work off-the-clock, were denied overtime pay, or were not allowed to take rest and lunch breaks.[52] In 2000, Walmart paid $50 million to settle a class-action suit that asserted that 69,000 current and former Walmart employees in Colorado had been forced to work off-the-clock.[52] The company has also faced similar lawsuits in other states, including Pennsylvania,[53] Oregon, and [54] Minnesota.[55] Class-action suits were also filed in 1995 on behalf of full-time Walmart pharmacists whose base salaries and working hours were reduced as sales declined, resulting in the pharmacists being treated like hourly employees.[56]

    Walmart has also been accused of ethical problems. It is said that the Walmart employees are gender discriminated when trying to be hired and discriminated against in the work area. Duke vs. Walmart inc. was a discrimination case on behalf of more than 1.5 million current and former female employees of Walmart’s 3,400 stores across the United States. (9th circuit 2007) Dr. William Bliebly who evaluated Walmart’s employment policies “against what social science research shows to be factors that create and sustain bias and those that minimize bias” (Bliebly) and he finished by saying, the men and women not being created equal in the workforce is what Walmart is doing and what they should essentially not be doing.

    On October 16, 2006, approximately 200 workers on the morning shift at a Walmart Super Center in Hialeah Gardens, Florida walked out in protest against new store policies and rallied outside the store, shouting “We want justice” and criticizing the company’s recent policies as “inhuman.”[57] This marks the first time that Walmart has faced a worker-led revolt of such scale, according to both employees and the company.[57] Reasons for the revolt included cutting full-time hours, a new attendance policy, and pay caps that the company imposed in August 2006, compelling workers to be available to work any shift (day, swing or night), and that shifts would be assigned by computers at corporate headquarters and not by local managers. Walmart quickly held talks with the workers, addressing their concerns.[57] Walmart asserts that its policy permits associates to air grievances without fear of retaliation.[58]

    The 2004 report by U.S. Representative George Miller alleged that in ten percent of Walmart’s stores, nighttime employees were locked inside, holding them prisoner.[59] There has been some concern that Walmart’s policy of locking its nighttime employees in the building has been implicated in a longer response time to dealing with various employee emergencies, or weather conditions such as hurricanes in Florida.[60] Walmart said this policy was to protect the workers, and the store’s contents, in high-crime areas and acknowledges that some employees were inconvenienced in some instances for up to an hour as they had trouble locating a manager with the key. However, fire officials confirm that at no time were fire exits locked or employees blocked from escape. Walmart has advised all stores to ensure the door keys are available on site at all times.[60]
    [edit] Child labor violations

    In January 2004, The New York Times reported on an internal Walmart audit conducted in July 2000, which examined one week’s time-clock records for roughly 25,000 employees.[61] According to the Times, the audit, “pointed to extensive violations of child-labor laws and state regulations requiring time for breaks and meals,” including 1,371 instances of minors working too late, during school hours, or for too many hours in a day.[61] There were 60,767 missed breaks and 15,705 lost meal times.[61] Walmart’s vice president for communications responded that company auditors had determined that the methodology used was flawed, and the company “did not respond to it in any way internally.”[61])


  2. Now this is a great story – a great example of can do attitude and the need for a person who is driven.

    Can you see the differnce between thought leaders, and those who actually get things done?

  3. Keith:

    Your viewpoint is correct but it is also, not quite that simple.

    Wal-Mart is a US based organization that is a leading capitalist. What you are seeing is the maturation of capitalist thinking and as such, the beginning of the end of anything related to fairness or decency for the masses who will serve such masters.

    If Wal-Mart wanted create better lives for their workers, they would do so.

    Honestly, do you really think that the Bentonville boys close their doors and try to figure out ways to enrich the lives of those who are in their employee?

    Another quick example, just today, Microsoft probes mass suicide threat at China plant on CNN, top story! Do you really think that Microsoft was so dumb as to have no idea this is going on?

    Hang on Keith You ain;t seen nothin yet. Nothin!

  4. @ Howard:
    I’m (not) shocked! shocked! that there’s gambling in this establishment…. But doing anything which guarantees decent pay and working conditions is an intolerable intrusion of nefarious “GUMMINT” which will stop at nothing to break the fingers of the sacred Invisible Hand (may Its Name be forever praised!) and threaten the very roots of our Tree of *Liberty while contaminating all our precious bodily fluids…



    *which usually means your right to economic power over others unchecked and unaccountable except to the holy and perfect powers of the divine Free Market (may It set up franchises throughout the world until the end of time!).

  5. John,
    I am sorry Keith did not take his own personal anti Walmart rant / lecture / tangent to his own website or blog instead of using our ERE and your article for rants on something that had nothing to do with the gist of your recruiting article.

  6. @ Stephen:
    I’m sorry you don’t agree that how a company deals- and what a company does- with its employees is just as relevant to us as how efficiently or inefficiently it brings them aboard. Commenting on ERE about the (IMHO) inappropriate praise for a company’s hiring that has many counts of alleged HR improprieties is as relevant and important as commenting on giving awards for hiring practices to a company that hires contractors who allegedly torture people.



  7. @ Keith,

    So are you on a personal crusade to post about every company who you think allegedly has HR improprieties global and domestic? I don’t think your crusade is about every company but probably really boils down to your personal dislike of Walmart.

    Your 1319 word reply to a 813 word article which had no mention of recruiting, recruiter, talent or no real relevant reference back to John Zappe’s original article concerning recruiting – to me, makes your reply a personal rant and inappropriate and actually disrespectful to ERE authors like John Zappe who give their valuable time posting and providing free content for the edification of our recruiting profession.

    Most of us subscribe to ERE for recruiting content. If you want to post a personal monolog of your crusade of alleged, suspected, rumored legal improprieties (some allegations which are over 10 years old) of companies – take it to a more appropriate venue like your own website or blog or an anti-walmart blog or website.

  8. @Stephen.

    You make a good point and it is well taken.

    However, I do urge you to consider that Wal-Mart is both huge as well as highly visible.

    All eyes are on everything, good or bad, that companies such as Wal-Mart, Apple, Microsoft and Google do; or not do.

    They are leaders and as such much is expected. Furthermore, the good and the correct is usually played down while the bad and the odious is usually played up because good things do not make for good news stories.

    Wal-Mart will continue to be measured with a different yardstick than 98% of the companies we discuss. This is not necessarily a bad thing as the stand barer must be head and shoulders above as it sets an example for those who will follow.

  9. @ Stephen; My point is this:
    IMHO, ERE should not praise the hiring practices of companies which are under public investigation of gross workplace improprieties, like Walmart and the other company I alluded to. I think the same should apply to other companies like the frequently-praised-on-ERE “employer of choice” well-known for its discriminatory and cavalier hiring practices….If you think that discussing how a company treats its employees and what types of people they hire is irrelevant to recruiting, well that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it…


  10. Keith’s above mentioned comment is one that strikes at the core of not only our values but our essential humanity. It is very hard to make a cogent argument against what Keith has written.

    Did he get carreid away with his 1,300 word manifesto? Of course but his last comment is very powerful.

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