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• Coincidence or not, both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times had stories over the weekend focusing on Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-New York) and her service on the Wal-Mart board of directors from 1986 to 1992.

The Los Angeles Times writes: “Former Wal-Mart Stores Inc. board members and executives recall Clinton as a politically nimble insider who cautiously tried to nudge the company toward hiring more female executives and environmentally friendly practices, to limited effect, while remaining silent as Wal-Mart pursued anti-union strategies.”

The LAT goes on: “Crowded with the others around metal folding tables in the kitchen of a converted warehouse — a no-frills board room selected by ‘Mr. Sam’ himself — Clinton assumed the role of loyalist reformer, making the case for measured change without rocking the boat.

“She voted on company policies and joined several advisory committees during a period that was a turning point for the firm as it transformed rapidly from a regional chain of cut-rate stores to a worldwide retail powerhouse. Her Wal-Mart tenure exposed Clinton to the inner workings of a mega-corporation, and foreshadowed an impulse in her political career to both prod and accommodate big business.”

The New York Times reports: “According to fellow board members and company executives, who have rarely discussed her role in Wal-Mart, Mrs. Clinton used her position to champion personal causes, like the need for more women in management and a comprehensive environmental program, despite being Wal-Mart’s only female director, the youngest and arguably the least experienced in business. On other topics, like Wal-Mart’s vehement anti-unionism, she was largely silent, they said.

“Her experience on the Wal-Mart board, from 1986 to 1992, gave her an unusual tutorial in the ways of American business — a credential that could serve as an antidote to Republican efforts to portray her as an enemy of free markets and an advocate for big government.”

The Observer reported in the UK that Wal-Mart-owned Asda Group plans to open as many as 300 homeware stores, called Asda Living, in coming years, with CEO Andy Bond saying that this will be a key “avenue of growth.”

• The Wall Street Journal reports that Wal-Mart is working with a discount brokerage, ShareBuilder Corp., to offer low-cost investment services under the name Wal-Mart Easy Investing by ShareBuilder. The move comes two months after it withdrew its application to open an industrial bank, an effort that was opposed by many in the traditional banking business because of concerns that Wal-Mart would develop a larger financial services portfolio.

Because of legal restrictions, Wal-Mart won’t get a percentage of trading fees, but will get a straight payment by the brokerage. The service is already being offered on its website, and will now be offered in stores as well.
KC's View:
It is all about angles. If one doesn’t work, Wal-Mart tries another. But the momentum is almost always forward, and there is no such thing as complacency.