A “cultlike” business group funnels college students into Wal-Mart’s management ranks and helps the retail giant maintain its conservative, patriarchal culture, according to a former insider who recounted his experience in a new memoir.
Curtis DeBerg, an accounting professor at California State University-Chico, said Students In Free Enterprise -- now known as Enactus – recruits management candidates for Wal-Mart by hosting rigged contests and other events aimed at business students.
“When you go to a SIFE event … the biggest booth of all is Wal-Mart,” DeBerg told Salon. “All of these young people, dressed in their USA ties and their matching lapel pins, as they’re walking by the booth, [there are] the recruiters for Wal-Mart.
The retailer’s vendors – who DeBerg claims are strong-armed into funding the student organization – also recruit employee candidates at the events, which students attend at their own expense.
“It’s the low-cost way to recruit very good managerial talent that has already swallowed the servant leadership Kool-Aid,” DeBerg told the website. “Shoot, I’ll take $5,000 less a year, as long as I’m on the track to become the store manager or the district manager. You know, there’s nothing wrong with that — unless Wal-Mart continues to pay sh*t wages.”
DeBerg, who is promoting his forthcoming book, How High Is Up?: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of a Sam M. Walton SIFE Fellow, said he became involved with the organization in 1993 to help his students gain real-world experience before graduation.
“My first big shock was how conservative and how Christian this organization was, even as it was appealing to secular universities,” he said.
Labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein, who has also written about the company in The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business, said DeBerg's book “offers an inside account of the cultlike character, institutional corruption, and corporate conservative ideology" of SIFE.
"[The organization is] part of the cultural apparatus that sustains the entire evangelical capitalist world within which so many retail, hotel, and food processing companies make their way,” Lichtenstein said.
DeBerg said vendors served as judges during rigged student competitions and were encourage to pay up to $25,000 for seats on SIFE’s board of directors during student events he compared to a “revival.”
DeBerg said Wal-Mart acts as a surrogate church for conservative rural workers, and he said SIFE helps the retailer identify managerial candidates who share this worldview to maintain this corporate culture.
“The men, as the store managers, were kind of like the head of the farm, they were the breadwinner, and now, if the man is running the store here, that used to be viewed kind of like ladies’ work,” DeBerg said. “But if he could be the manager or the district manager, he was still the boss.”
[Image via Agence France-Presse]