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Chairman Mao Stares at a Wal-Mart

If you tuned into CNBC last night for the first time since, oh, March of 2000, you were in for some pretty compelling television. Although “The Age of Wal-Mart: Inside America’s Most Powerful Company” rehashed much of the continuing Wal-Mart saga — the community activism, the unrelenting pressure on suppliers, the “It’s my Wal-Mart!” cheers — I was glued to the corp-u-mentary.

If you missed it, a few highlights: They get up early in Bentonville! Wal-Mart senior management meets every Saturday morning at 7 am, an arena-sized meeting of store managers starts at 6, and the retailing behemoth begins its shareholder meeting at 7. The segments on China were the most fascinating, as much for the trivia — stores regularly get 75,000 customers per day, a statue of Chairman Mao is positioned directly across from a new Beijing Wal-Mart, rice is sold in a sandbox-like heap–as for watching the greasy-haired, chain-smoking Joe Hatfield, president and COO of Wal-Mart China, address young Chinese “associates” with his Arkansas “y’all.”

What surprised me most, perhaps, was to hear hear a steely regional manager, Pat Curran, talk about how impressed she was with Target’s numbers. CEO Lee Scott, too, sat in his wood-paneled office (he even has one of those plastic walnut nameplate thingys on his door) and complimented Best Buy, Target, Walgreens — even J.C. Penny. World domination may be Wal-Mart’s goal, but the retailing behemoth actually seemed to have a healthy respect for its competitors. Did anyone else watch? What did you think?

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