by Justin Elliott, ProPublica
In a 7,000-word blockbuster Sunday, The New York Times reported that Walmart allegedly engaged in a vast campaign of bribery to expand the company’s Mexico business in the early 2000s, potentially violating U.S. law. The scheme was allegedly overseen by a Walmart executive, Eduardo Castro-Wright, described by The Times as “the driving force behind years of bribery” totaling millions of dollars.
Three years ago, Castro-Wright himself gave an interview to The Times in which he offered a somewhat different picture of his leadership style.
Castro-Wright sat for an interview in 2009 as part of The Times’ “Corner Office” series in which top executives talk “about leadership and management.” The Times asked Castro-Wright: “What message would you convey in a commencement speech?” He responded:
“Here in the United States, and any of the developed countries, I would tend to provide a speech along the lines of what I said before about what makes great leaders — the fact that there’s no leader who can be called one if they don’t have personal integrity, or if they don’t deliver results, or if they don’t care about the people they lead, or if they don’t have a passion for winning.”
Asked about the “most important leadership lesson” he’d learned in his career, Castro-Wright emphasized trust:
“There’s nothing that destroys credibility more than not being able to look someone in the eye and have them know that they can trust you. Leadership is about trust. It’s about being able to get people to go to places they never thought they could go. They can’t do that if they don’t trust you.”
The Times interview ran under the headline “In a Word, He Wants Simplicity” about five years after the period in which Castro-Wright had allegedly overseen systematic bribery.
In its front-page story yesterday, The Times quoted former Wal-Mart de Mexico executive Sergio Cicero Zapata alleging how and why Castro-Wright had authorized bribery:
In an interview with The Times, Mr. Cicero said Mr. Castro-Wright had encouraged the payments for a specific strategic purpose. The idea, he said, was to build hundreds of new stores so fast that competitors would not have time to react. Bribes, he explained, accelerated growth. They got zoning maps changed. They made environmental objections vanish. Permits that typically took months to process magically materialized in days. “What we were buying was time,” he said.
The meteoric growth of the company’s Mexican business translated into promotions for Castro-Wright. In 2005, he was appointed head of Walmart U.S., and in 2008 to his current position as vice chairman of Walmart and CEO of its global ecommerce business.
Walmart announced in September 2011 that Castro-Wright would retire this July. The company’s bio page that shows up as the second hit for Castro-Wright’s name on a Google search is now blank. Company spokeswoman Ashley Hardie told ProPublica that the page had been taken down after the announcement last September. Castro-Wright is also on the boards of insurer MetLife and the charity CARE.
Walmart has posted a statement on the Times piece, saying that it is “working aggressively to determine what happened” and that “if these allegations are true, it is not a reflection of who we are or what we stand for.” The company informed the Justice Department of an internal investigation in December after it learned of The Times’ reporting, according to the paper.