Cult-like, Corrupt and Christian Conservative: Inside The Campus Group Creating Wal-Mart Managers

Walmart Home Office signWhy is Wal-Mart just so creepy? Maybe it’s the manager “training” described by Josh Eidelson for Salon:

For decades, the campus group Students in Free Enterprise has drawn major funding and leadership from Wal-Mart, and channeled scores of students into the retail giant’s management ranks. Renamed Enactus in 2012, the group calls itself “the world’s best-known and most successful program helping university students to create community empowerment projects …” But California State University, Chico, accounting professor and former SIFE insider Curtis DeBerg told Salon that the well-heeled group served as “really a marketing branch to support business leaders who supported SIFE,” and that his decade as one of SIFE’s Sam Walton fellows was marked by fraud, turf war and falsehood. “There’s something entirely inconsistent about servant leadership as Wal-Mart practices it,” said DeBerg, the founder of the now-rival spinoff Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship. DeBerg’s memoir, “How High Is Up?: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of a Sam M. Walton SIFE Fellow,” will be released next month.

Asked about DeBerg’s allegations, Enactus sent a statement from CEO Alvin Rohrs saying that DeBerg “has not been associated with our organization for more than a decade and we are puzzled as to why these complaints would resurface now.” Rohrs told Salon that “we take the integrity of our competitions extremely seriously” and that a three-month investigation by an “independent investigator” into the cheating alleged by DeBerg had “found no impropriety or indication of any unethical behavior.” Rohrs added, “Over the last 11 years we’ve used this incident to continue to improve and strengthen our processes to ensure the highest standards of transparency and accuracy.”

In contrast, University of California, Santa Barbara, labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein, the author of “The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business,” told Salon over email that DeBerg “offers an inside account of the cultlike character, institutional corruption and corporate conservative ideology of an organization that is a product of the founding generation of Walmart executives,” as well as “part of the cultural apparatus that sustains the entire evangelical capitalist world within which so many retail, hotel, and food processing companies make their way.”

Wal-Mart referred a request for comment to Enactus. Noting that Wal-Mart served as SIFE’s top corporate sponsor and hired over a third of management trainees from SIFE in 2003, the historian Bethany Moreton argued that SIFE, an “economic counterpart” to the right-wing political group Young Americans for Freedom, had been “adopted” by Wal-Mart. Today SIFE has renamed itself Enactus; Wal-Mart’s CEO (SIFE’s most recent past board chair) and its central U.S. vice president sit on Enactus’ board; Wal-Mart and its Sam’s Club subsidiary are seven-figure Enactus donors.

A condensed version of Salon’s interview with DeBerg follows.

What brought you to SIFE, and what kept you there for so many years?

In 1993 … the dean of our college of business got this one-page letter from Rob Walton, who was chairman of the board for Wal-Mart … It explained that [as a Sam Walton fellow] a faculty member would organize a small team of students on campus … teaching community members about free enterprise, and the importance of small business and free enterprise, with their strong bent on reducing the debt …

[continues at Salon]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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  • Thurlow Weed

    Not that I know for sure but when this company man says:

    Rohrs added, “Over the last 11 years we’ve used this incident to continue to improve and strengthen our processes to ensure the highest standards of transparency and accuracy.”

    I’m guessing that means his org identifies traitors in advance of problems, or tries to, and neutralizes them before public relations damage control is ever needed.

    • Anarchy Pony

      We have a winner!

  • Liam_McGonagle

    The wonderful thing about the problem of “groupthink” is that it eventually solves itself. Eventually, they become so inbred as to be totally incapable of survival or reproduction.