David Glass, Walmart boss and KC Royals owner, dies at 84

  • >>Katharine Q Seelye, The New York Times
    Published: 2020-01-22 19:29:17 BdST

AS CEO, David Glass increased Walmart annual revenues to $165 billion in 2000, up from $16 billion in 1988. Photo: Darren Rovell via Twitter

David D Glass, who as chief executive of Walmart stores led the world’s largest retailer through one of its greatest periods of expansion, and who also owned the Kansas City Royals when they won the 2015 World Series, died Jan 9. He was 84.

His family said the cause was complications associated with pneumonia. They did not say where he died.

Glass led Walmart from 1988 to 2000; he then became owner and chief executive of the Royals, who, on his watch, made their first trip to the World Series in nearly three decades, losing to the San Francisco Giants in 2014. But the team won the title the next year against the New York Mets.

Glass paid $96 million for the franchise in 2000 (the equivalent of about $146 million today) and sold it last fall for $1 billion.

During his 12-year tenure at Walmart, Glass built on the success of its founder, Sam Walton. He increased annual revenues to $165 billion in 2000, up from $16 billion in 1988.

Most significantly, he helped introduce the sale of grocery items alongside general merchandise in Walmart Supercenters. The move positioned Walmart to become the largest seller of groceries in the United States and, according to Forbes, has helped it hold the edge over Amazon, the world’s biggest online store, for the title of world’s largest retailer ranked by sales.

“More than anyone beyond Sam Walton, David Glass is responsible for making Walmart the company it is today,” Rob Walton, Sam’s oldest son and a former Walmart chairman himself, said in a statement.

In addition, Glass expanded Sam’s Clubs, a membership program offering wholesale prices, and increased international operations in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom.

He also led a team of managers in developing automated distribution centres. These linked Walmart headquarters with stores and suppliers, enabling the company to expand from being a regional retailer to a global one.

In 1993, he was named the most admired chief executive in the country in a Fortune Magazine survey of business executives.

While he was juggling so much at Walmart, Glass, who had earlier expressed interest in buying the Royals, was appointed interim chairman of the franchise after Ewing Kauffman, the founding owner, died in 1993.

Glass was essentially a caretaker for the team. But at the end of his workday at Walmart, he’d frequently leave his office in Arkansas, climb into a small propeller plane and head to Kansas City for an evening game.

After he bought the team in 2000, the fans at first didn’t cotton to him. They said he ran it on the cheap and traded away promising players. And the Royals hadn’t won, or been in, a World Series since 1985. But in 2006, Glass hired Dayton Moore as general manager and put in the money to turn the team around.

With guidance and encouragement from Glass, Moore embarked on a patient rebuilding, emphasising speed, defence and contact hitting to fit the Royals’ spacious home ballpark. When a talented group of young players seemed ready to have an effect, Glass approved the acquisition of costlier veterans to help the team make a postseason push.

“Our commitment was to put the best roster on the field and utilize our farm system,” Moore told The New York Times on Tuesday. “We were going to stay disciplined and focused on that mission and that directive that Mr Glass had so well defined for us.”

David Dayne Glass was born Sept 2, 1935, in New Liberty, Missouri, and grew up in nearby Mountain View. His father, Marvin, ran a feed mill, and his mother, Myrtle, managed a garment factory. David joined the Army and graduated in 1960 from what is now Missouri State University with a degree in business.

A Wal-Mart store is seen in Encinitas, California April 13, 2016. Reuters

A Wal-Mart store is seen in Encinitas, California April 13, 2016. Reuters

He began his retail career in 1960 at Crank Drug Co in Springfield, Missouri, where he stayed for eight years before becoming an executive at a small grocery chain, Consumers Markets.

Eager to sniff out his competitors, Glass visited Sam Walton’s second Walmart store, in Harrison, Arkansas, in 1964. Whether by chance or by plan is unclear, but he met the then-unknown Walton and told him that his store was the worst retail outlet he had ever seen.

The two stayed in touch, and Walton recruited him to be the company’s chief financial officer in 1976. Glass gradually took on more responsibilities. When Walton, by then the richest man in the United States, stepped down in 1988, Glass was named company president and chief executive.

Even though the country was mired in an economic downturn when Glass gained control, Walmart managed to increase sales several fold.

He had a reputation as a humble man. “I’ve never had much ego,” he told Fortune in 2004, explaining how easy it was to follow a charismatic leader like Sam Walton. “I like being part of a winning team,” he said. “I don’t have to be the winning team.”

But he faced challenges. The company’s behemoth size and financial success fuelled resentment; its critics complained about its low wages and accused it of driving small stores out of business and even wiping out entire downtowns across the country.

Glass said in the Fortune interview that such resentment “comes with the territory,” and that he did the best he could.

He was as frugal as Sam Walton but far more averse to publicity. One of his few encounters with the news media was a disastrous appearance on NBC’s newsmagazine “Dateline” in 1992. A “Dateline” investigation said Walmart was buying shirts from a factory in Bangladesh that used child labour and that the company was displaying imported goods in its stores under signs that said “Made in the USA.” Another Walmart executive stopped the interview while the cameras were rolling and hustled Glass off the air. He immediately ordered the stores to remove the “Made in the USA” signs.

“They asked me questions I knew nothing about,” Glass told Fortune. “I was pretty irritated for a little bit, but it didn’t make any difference at all to the customers. In fact, business went up.”

Glass married Ruth Ann Roberts, who survives him, in 1956. Survivors also include their two sons, Don and Dan; a daughter, Dayna Martz; nine grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; and a brother, Dick.

Even as his health declined last year, Glass continued to attend Royals games.

“I’m here,” he told The Associated Press in September as he leaned over the dugout during batting practice, “because where else would you want to be on a Saturday evening but the ballpark?”

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