Once upon a time, you needed to join the Army to see the world. That’s not the case anymore, as Donald C. Bland demonstrates. President and CEO of Wal-Mart Argentina, Bland has moved around the country and abroad.
He has made his name and reputation as a “special ops” man, able to come into a situation and set up the structure that will make his company’s operations run smoothly-and profitably.
The St. Louis native began his retail career in 1967 at Minneapolis-based Target Stores, a Dayton Hudson company, after three years of teaching elementary school, a profession members of his family traditionally pursued.
Bland, 58, became the manager of his first Target store in 1971 in Chicago, but he was lured away by Montgomery Ward & Co. two years later. Within eight years, he went from managing a single store to becoming district merchandise manager with responsibility for 20 Chicago-area stores.
Over the next several years, Bland assumed positions of increasing responsibility at various retail outlets: Hudson’s in Detroit, Lechmere in Boston and Hechinger’s Home Quarters in Virginia. “I learned to make sure that I knew as much about an organization, how it works, what its objectives are and how it intends to meet its goals. For my success, I’ve learned that I must have a say and a sense of ownership in the business.”
That say was found in 1991, when Bland became a co-founder and vice president of operations at Aikenheads Home Improvement Warehouse, a home improvement retailer in Toronto, Canada. In two years, he had built and operated three stores, and was working on a fourth when the chain was sold to Home Depot, which was looking to gain more of a foothold in the Canadian market.
When his first international stint ended, Wal-Mart recruited Bland in 1993 as a regional vice president for 80 stores in Louisiana and Mississippi. His region expanded to 107 stores in eight states with revenues over $3 billion. “Those stores were always number one, two or three in sales,” Bland recalls. He maintains that running a successful business is possible when you have good people. “You try to be a resource for them, get them what they need, set goals and try to communicate those goals. If you respect people, try to service the customer and keep operating costs as low as possible-you’ll make a profit.”
When Wal-Mart expanded its international scope by purchasing 122 Woolco stores in Canada, it tapped Bland, returning him to the country to run its operations in early 1996. As senior vice president and COO, he was responsible for all of the stores in the country. During his two-and-a-half-year stay, he grew Wal-Mart’s Canadian operations from 122 to 154 outlets, with revenues in excess of $5 billion. Wal-Mart became the No. 1 retailer in the country.
When Wal-Mart decided to increase its presence in the Latin American market, Bland was tapped again. This time, the Fortune 100 company made him president and CEO of Wal-Mart Argentina. “I was chosen to lead that growth