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Featured Keynote: A Legacy in Progress

Posted By Robert Wray, Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Gisel Ruiz (Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Walmart US) began her career in 1992, by working in stores. Now, she’s here as the featured keynote speaker.

To the notion of legacy, it’s not a destination, it’s a journey. Gisel is here to share with us her lessons learned. It’s not a project, it’s a way of life and what you leave behind.

"Why am I here?” asked Gisel. "Two reasons: I have an interesting story, and because I work for Walmart. We have about 800,000 women working in US alone, about the population of San Francisco. 200,000 women have been there for ten years or more – quite a commitment, especially in retail. Last year, we promoted over 80,000 women, which was all about finding the best people for the job, and not gender.” Key in Walmart’s progress, she said, is not philosophizing, but transforming by changing things, taking action.

Through experience and great mentors, Gisel has learned some things she shared with the rapt audience:

Reveal yourself – you can define what you will or won’t stand for, what you believe, but the breakthrough is how you demonstrate your values and principles at work. Reveal your whole self at work – consistency is the cousin of integrity. That is being honest with who you are (in Gisel’s case, being kind but "not sweet”). Bring it all to work. "Your true north” will never change.

Lose the guilt
– we set such high expectations for ourselves, that when we don’t meet them, we fall prey to guilt. Guilt exists at home and at work. When we’re with family and worry about what work will think. That’s guilt. To Gisel, there is no work/life "balance”… there is work, and there is life, and choices. You have to be okay with your choices. Take your steps forward without having to justify decisions, or picturing other people’s judgments.

Seek and accept help – when you’re a store manager, you’re it. You’re the boss. Things are very different in an environment like the home office. It becomes less about you than about other people. Having a circle of people that you can trust, including sponsors and mentors, is crucial. With many different functions, you can’t do it alone. You need help – and people won’t think less of you for asking. Be clear about it… and remember to recognize your help.

Roar! –Leverage your strengths, don’t change them. Be a woman. It is a gift. Women bring a different perspective to conversations and dialogue. Don’t struggle with hair, makeup, heels… whatever makes you feel powerful, whatever makes you feel good about yourself, do it.

Gisel has met extraordinary people on the job, but her legacy is how she puts these stories together for her children. It’s really about sharing stories with her kids, so that they see the empowerment of women through casual conversations.

"Plant these seeds,” said Gisel. "If there’s going to be a change, an empowerment in women, it doesn’t start with how you feel about an event like this, it starts with what you do. What you do with your company, your leadership. In order for there to be transformation, there has to be action.”

By virtue of sitting in a chair at the Forum, Gisel reminded the audience, we’re signing up to make a difference. A world of difference.

(Walmart attended the NEW Executive Leaders Forum in force August 1. Pictured front row from left: Marcia McGraw; NEW Board Chair Michelle Gloeckler, senior vice president, home, Walmart US; Forum keynote speaker Gisel Ruiz, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Walmart US; Amy Bagley; and Celia Swanson. Back row: Kim Sentebich; Rachel Marler; Tabitha Watkins; Karen Stuckey; Matt Mayes; and Daria Reckom.)

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