‘How I narrowly escaped working at WalMart’
It’s hot here. So hot my brain is mush and my funnybone has rickets. I’m so filled with Summertime Lassitude that I tried to republish a post from a couple of summers ago called “Who Wants To Go On A WalMart Run?”
This is the first time I’ve tried to do a sort of “rerun,” and, since it didn’t work and I hate to disappoint, I’m gonna compromise. Instead of dreaming up an entirely new story, I’ll tell you another one about WalMart.
This story is about how I almost went to work for them. No, not as a WalMart Greeter — though I am of a similar age as most Greeters, and would probably enjoy earning a bit of pin money smiling at people and saying “Hello, welcome to WalMart” and pointing out where the giant tubs of Goldfish can be found.
No, once upon a time I came this close to interviewing for the job of WalMart Corporate Advertising Director.
I happened to be working as a Group Creative Director for a pretty cool New York Ad Agency called DDB. (In the Golden Olden Ad Days it was called Doyle Dane Bernbach; this being the nineties, there was a craze for initials. Even Ogilvy & Mather was referred to by some — not me — as “O&M.”)
It was a good job — not a great job — but good. I made pretty good money and worked with pretty good people. Not great, like Ogilvy People, but not bad, not bad. I remember that there were an inordinate number of people named “Mike.” There were so many Mikes that one night some wag went around and replaced all the nameplates with “Mike.” I was “Mike Whitmore.”
This was pretty clever, but if you are accustomed to Ogilvy Clever — see “My Head Feels Funny” or “Harvey and the Grilled Half Goat Head” for exquisitely clever examples — the Mike Thing was, well, okay clever.
So I’m in my office — very nice; it even had a small refrigerator — when I get a phone call on an outside line. Thinking it might be Dude Man — remember, there were no cellphones then — I picked up.
It was a headhunter. Which is what we called recruiters. I really wanted to get whatever I was working on done so that I could head home to his Dudeness and The Child, and I didn’t really want to hear a headhunter pitch, so I tried to cut it short: “Thanks for calling, but…”
“But wait — this is a terrific job,” says Ms. Headhunter. “It’s one of the nation’s biggest companies, and you’d be running their whole advertising department.”
“I’m really not all that interested in working on the client side,” I answered reasonably. (Back then, no one wanted to work on the client side. You got to boss the Agency around, but you didn’t get to think up cool ads yourself. It’s kind of like being the conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, when what you really want to do is sing.
Then Ms. Headhunter goes on to say that the company is WalMart. “Aren’t they based in, like, Arkansas?” I ask her. “I mean, who wants to live in Arkansas?”
“Bentonville is actually very nice,” she says. “You can own a mansion. For peanuts.” “Yes, but you have to live in a mansion in Arkansas,” I answer, visions of Bill and Hillary’s Victorian swagged-velvet-drape-swathed White House dancing in my snobby Manhattanite brain.
“No thanks,” I said. “But thank you for thinking of me.”
“Wait! Don’t you want to know how much it pays?”
“Okay. How much?”
“The salary alone is in the upper six figures. But once you add in the stock and the other perks, it comes to — around a million a year.”
Well. Even if I could picture myself living in Arkansas, and envision The Child adapting her ten-year-old self to Arkansas (Come to think of it, she’d probably love having a big ole Arkansonian yard) I couldn’t imagine how Dr. Dude could move his practice there.
So I politely dismissed Ms. Headhunter after helpfully gave her a few names of Possible New Ad Directors for WalMart. Then I head home, where I proceed to regale Dude Man with the story about about the possible-but-impossible WalMart Gig.
I’m chuckling over the part about scoring some velvet drapery — maybe for an interview outfit — when he interrupts. “How much did you say it paid?”
“Um, the package is around a million a year.”
“You wouldn’t have to move there,” he said. “You could work there during the week — and fly home for weekends.”
Amagansett, New York. June 2021