Chilean Economists and Sea-Lamprey Tacos: An Interview with Walmart's VP of International M&A
By Lauren Anderson ‘15 | april, 2014, Issue 1
Leslie Mueller Fletcher, Booth Alum '05
The Emerging Markets Summit is coming up April 12th and is sure to bring some fantastic perspectives from around the world. Chicago Business caught up with jet-setting Booth alum, Leslie Mueller Fletcher, to see the world through her eyes. Fletcher is Vice President of International M&A at Walmart and discusses how to prepare for the risks and challenges of working in emerging markets as well as the dynamic international retail industry. You can hear more of Fletcher's experiences and insights on April 12th at EMS!
Take us around the world in your eyes. What are you most excited about when looking at the future of business in emerging markets?
The simplest but most profound change in my opinion is the globalization of culture. Aspirations are far more convergent than local tastes are divergent. The emerging middle class in all markets seek goods at a lower cost to live a better life, and will trust global brands with that future.
What is the biggest difference between the retail industry in the US and international markets? Along those same lines, when speaking senior leadership in Walmart US, where do you usually differ in opinion because of your unique perspective from international markets?
Retail in the US vs. international markets primarily varies in the asset base and related infrastructure (physical and political). The modernization of retail is both a driver of and subject to the modernization of the overall economy. Whether it is opaque property rights, unstable electrical grids, or aging roads, it is harder to provide efficient solutions when the core economic foundations are simultaneously developing. Another difference is the speed of adoption of new business concepts and channels. For example, both developed and emerging markets are seeing growth in smaller stores (discount, convenience, etc.) and eCommerce/mCommerce. However, emerging markets sometimes move faster or even leapfrog stages in retail development. In some cases, we have taken format innovation from an international market back to the US. At the senior levels, bringing to the table different perspectives is actually highly valued, so the conversations between business units are about how to leverage scale, best practices, and insights.
Operating in emerging markets can be extremely difficult and sensitive for all companies. What have you learned working on this side of the business and how can Booth students prepare to deal with these risks and challenges?
The patience of a long term view is the most powerful informal lesson to share with Booth students. Being economically 'right' about a strategy or decision is not even half of the battle. The process of building trust with a current market (and confidence to enter a new market) takes time. If we think about the Chilean economists, dubbed the 'Chicago Boys', they re-nationalized a lot of companies before they got the free market model right to sustain decades of growth. You have to be ready to make long term investments, not trades.
Does anything surprise you anymore after spending time in so many countries?
The "surprise" that awaits me in each market is always an unusual gastronomic experience... In Brazil, vying with Coke and Pepsi is Guarana (made with the same base juice in Red Bull). It's delicious. In the North, however, there is a special version called Jesus Guarana, which is bright pink and tastes like bubble gum (I personally wouldn't recommend it). Most every market has some form of Mexican food, but if you want to accidentally eat sea-lamprey tacos, you have to travel.
Where is your favorite place to travel on personal time and why?
To warm places where everything is easy! I like Belize. Some of my most memorable trips however were to cities with a rich cultural history and which feel truly different from everyday life in the U.S. My favorites so far have been Tokyo and St. Petersburg.