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Board member Sarah Friar: Walmart will be a great company for the next 100 years

Melody Hahm
·West Coast Correspondent

Walmart reported a blowout fourth quarter on Tuesday driven by its sustained growth in e-commerce. Online sales rose 43% as more shoppers flocked to the retail juggernaut for its grocery delivery service.

Walmart’s fourth quarter earnings came in at $1.41 a share, ahead of Wall Street estimates for $1.34 a share. Revenue of $138.8 billion slightly surpassed consensus expectations.

Walmart’s ability to segue into online dominance should worry Amazon. The Seattle-based tech giant reported that North America sales rose 18% year-over-year in the fourth quarter, slowing from the 42% a year ago. Sales in North America have now slowed for three straight quarters.

CEO Doug McMillon credited “progress on initiatives to accelerate growth” coupled with "a favorable economic environment" for the boost in sales.

“Our commitment to the customer is clear — we'll be there when, where and how they want to shop and deliver new, convenient experiences that are uniquely Walmart,” McMillon said in a statement.

‘The company was willing to take big risks’

Though Walmart is the world’s biggest company by revenue, McMillon has proven his ability to keep the behemoth nimble and adaptable.

Nextdoor CEO and Walmart board member Sarah Friar recently told Yahoo Finance that she was particularly compelled to join because of Walmart’s ability to stay relevant and resilient amid such a pressure cooker environment.

“I'm just fascinated by really hard problems. And I think [Walmart] faces such an incredible shift, going from offline to online, and what that could do to their business over time. And yet I found the company was willing to take big risks,” she said in an interview for Yahoo Finance’s “Breakouts” series last month.

“Seeing the company, particularly CEO Doug McMillon, be willing to lean in on that, really impressed me. They're not going to just sit around. They are going to really get out over the edge of their skis to be a great company for the next hundred years,” added Friar, whose company, Nextdoor, is a social networking service for neighborhoods.

Beyond North America, Walmart has been aggressively trying to gain a deeper foothold in China and India. Last year, Amazon lost an expensive bidding war for Indian e-commerce behemoth Flipkart. Walmart ended up acquiring a 77% stake in the company for a whopping $16 billion. The deal was already in the works when Friar became a board member and closed shortly after she joined.

It remains unclear whether Walmart’s bold bet on India will pay off. Shares of Walmart fell after the announcement and Flipkart recently had to pull thousands of products offline because a new set of e-commerce rules imposed by the Indian government.

‘Walmart still feels a lot like a local business’

Walmart first added Friar to the board one year ago when she was still the CFO of Square (SQ), citing her sterling resume, which includes taking Square from a startup to a publicly traded company as well as stints at McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, and Salesforce.

“... Walmart will benefit from her fresh perspective and skillset, which includes strong expertise in finance, operations, strategy and knowledge of technology,” Walmart Chairman Greg Penner said in the announcement.

At first blush, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based behemoth doesn’t have much in common with a small business. But Walmart board member and Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar argues otherwise.

“Walmart often is not portrayed well in the media...But in the reality of their soul, Walmart still feels a lot like a local business,” she said.

“[Walmart founder] Sam Walton always put his customer first. He believed in values that were sustaining long after he is no longer with us. If you always have the lowest price, the best selection, and you're always available for your customers — so he opened later than any other store — you would win your customer set,” Friar added.

“You learn so much that you can bring back to even small companies. How Walmart thinks about its global platform is actually very applicable to a business like Nextdoor where we're trying to figure out how do we turn on countries quickly. We’re in [year] eight today, how can we be a 20 and 40 and so on?”

This story was originally published on February 3 and updated on February 19.

Melody Hahm is a senior writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm. She hosts Breakouts, a monthly interview series for Yahoo Finance featuring up-close and intimate conversations with today’s most innovative business leaders.

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