Walmart: New Digs for New Talent

Why leaders at the retail giant wanted a new sprawling headquarters.



The early renderings suggest the look of an attractive college campus with flower gardens, lakes, and a running trail. And that’s just on the outside of Walmart’s planned new corporate headquarters in its hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas.

In a move that other companies are watching carefully, the retail giant announced its plans for a 300-acre new headquarters, a nerve center that Walmart officials say will have lots of natural light, expanded food offerings, convenient parking, fitness options, and a childcare facility. And experts say all these amenities have a purpose: attracting talent, especially in today’s tight job market. “The economic reality is that the demand for highly skilled talent is far outstripping supply, and when you are competing over a limited talent pool, you have to proactively engage with them,” says Scott Macfarlane, vice president of client development at Korn Ferry.

Where to put a corporate headquarters is becoming an increasingly complex question for organization leaders. Companies are dealing with everything from shortages of highly skilled workers to demographic shifts in the labor pool to the intense demands of digital transformation. The focus is no longer on keeping real estate and salary costs down, but on seeing location as a business imperative to attract and retain the right talent to compete. The desire to attract top talent is one reason why Amazon is building a second headquarters in Virginia, where many potential candidates already live.

The trouble is, fewer workers are relocating for their jobs than ever before. Indeed, the number of people who relocated for work has declined by nearly 50% in the last decade. That’s partly the result of dual-income households and higher housing costs in certain geographies. But millennials are an even bigger reason: now the largest generation in the US labor force, they’re putting quality-of-life issues ahead of allegiance to a company or job. They want to work where they want to live, not live where they want to work.

Walmart, with its deep roots in Bentonville, never really considered moving out of the area. But its new headquarters will be a far cry from the company’s current home offices. Many of the current buildings that make up Walmart’s headquarters started their lives as Walmart warehouses. There are about 20 buildings scattered around Bentonville and the surrounding area. While the firm has rehabbed them periodically, the firm admits that they are expensive and inefficient to maintain.

Christian Hasenoehrl, a Korn Ferry senior client partner who works with Walmart, says the new headquarters should energize the thousands of merchandising, operations, logistics, and other professionals who work there while also helping them collaborate more effectively. It’ll also help the company look more relevant to prospective employees. “They want their facilities to reflect the new image, not the stodgy retail image,” he says.