Lee Scott, who recently retired as chief executive officer of the world's largest retailer, gave an aw-shucks performance today at the CIES World Food Business Summit in New York.
Recalling his rise through the ranks at Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores as a series of happy accidents -- he told the story about how Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton once said Scott was named CEO "because everyone else quit" -- Scott described his time at Wal-Mart largely in terms of the abilities of the others around him.
He praised his successor as CEO, Mike Duke, as a man who "leads his business life with extraordinary principles, and his personal life as well."
Although Wal-Mart has long come under fire for its own labor practices, Scott made what was perhaps the most rational pitch for corporate responsibility at a conference where industry leaders were practically climbing over each other to be labeled the most socially responsible corporation on the planet.
He called on attendees to "take advantage of this opportunity [as industry leaders] to make the world a better place," and encouraged all attendees to particate in the Global Social Compliance Program at the Consumer Goods Forum (the successor to CIES - The Food Business Forum). He especially focused on the need for both governments and buyers to weed out suppliers who flout labor and environmental regulations.
Scott's folksy humor came through again and again during his half-hour on stage. Asked what he was most proud of duing his nine years as CEO, he quipped, "I'm proud I wasn't fired by the president of the United States."