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Michael Duke, Retired Wal-Mart CEO, Pops in on Business Research Class

By Keith Morelli

Dukes speaking to class

TAMPA (Nov. 30, 2016) -- A classroom of business research students presenting their projects this week were treated to a special guest: Michael Duke, who, before retiring two years ago, ran the worldwide operations of Wal-Mart.

As the students were presenting their research projects to the rest of the class, Duke walked in with University of South Florida Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem. Both sat in the front row and listened as Peter Kipp, a doctoral candidate, finish his presentation on audits.

Duke then slipped into a chair facing the class and talked about the department store giant and how it began and he fielded a few questions during the impromptu 40-minute give-and-take.

The Georgia Tech graduate with a degree in industrial engineering told the students that USF is highly regarded across the nation as a research university and that the students should be proud to be a part of it.

He talked about the quality and diversity the student body here, saying that while on campus, he met and chatted with several students from all over the globe; Moscow, Jamaica, South America and beyond.

"You are part of something very, very special," he said.

"It is such an honor to have Mike Duke drop in on us," said Limayem. "To have one of the most successful business leaders of our time take a few moments to inspire our students is just incredible. It's a testament to him, as a down-to-earth person wanting to give back, and to the integrity of our program, faculty and students.

"Having him visit us," the dean said, "is a privilege."

The message to the class was this: Any one of you can start a business that has the potential to grow into the next Wal-Mart or Target or Amazon.

Sam Walton, he said, opened the first Wal-Mart in Rogers, Arkansas, in 1962. His vision was to provide cheap merchandise to people in rural areas where products they wanted could not be found, of if they could, were expensive.

"It started out in a little town, and now it's all over the world," Duke said. "In 1992, when Sam Walton died, we were showing about $40 billion in sales. Now, we have $500 billion in sales. We're in 27 countries with 11,000 stores and 2.2 million employees."

Duke joined the corporation in 1995 and has led the logistics, distribution and administration divisions. He served as vice chairman of the company from 2005 until he took over as president in 2009. He served as president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores until he resigned 2014.

Retail is ever evolving, he said. More and more people are ordering online and not going into brick-and-mortar stores and Wal-Mart is investing billions in research to find ways of keeping its market share.

"New competitors will come out of nowhere," he said, "to take on Target, and Amazon and Wal-Mart."

Another suggestion he had for the student researchers: Rather than dense titles smothered in academic jargon, make research titles simple so that they appeal to real business owners and corporate CEOs looking for ways to improve their profit margins. If nobody reads the research papers because of difficult-to-understand titles, none of the findings will ever be put to use.

And include executive summaries and conclusions, he said, that have clearly stated practical applications. Summaries are what busy people read first.

"Those summaries," he said, "have an influence on whether or not business owners and managers will read the document."