Project Management

Wal-Mart's Remarkable Rescue Efforts

Bob Weinstein is a journalist who covers technology, project management, the workplace and career development.

In the midst of chaos and confusion, unlikely heroes often emerge from the shadows. Hours after Katrina mercilessly battered New Orleans and Gulf Coast states, leaving millions of people homeless and without food or water, mega-retailer Wal-Mart suddenly shocked the world when it used its power, resources and enormous technological strength to do some serious good.

The largest and wealthiest company in the world turned out to be a knight in shining armor, delivering food, establishing shelters and evacuating thousands of New Orleans residents who had lost everything after Hurricane Katrina ravaged their city.

Initially, however, Wal-Mart bigwigs didn’t send their trucks to New Orleans for purely altruistic reasons. As soon as their operations team got wind of Katrina, they dispatched armored trucks to the region before the storm hit to get cash out of the stores as quickly as possible. Callously, they left not only merchandise that was sorely needed, but guns as well, which wound up in looters’ hands. 

Beyond Wal-Mart’s foolish attempt to grab the cash and hightail it out of town --and considering its tarnished image following lawsuits over allegedly not paying its employees proper overtime wages, on top of complaints of pressuring its “associates” to work long hours--Wal-Mart did the unexpected: It staged an uncharacteristic and extraordinary turnaround.

When Katrina …

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