Adding Value, Gaining Experience

Scott Sims, an honors accounting and finance double major in Walton College, beams at everyone we pass in the Bentonville Sam’s Club, greeting the workers like old friends. He throws back samples of orange juice and pineapple, putting everyone at ease with his infectious enthusiasm for the multicolored displays of cereal boxes, fresh-baked flour tortillas and wasabi-flavored Doritos that stock the wholesale grocery.

Back at the Home Office, Scott knows everyone in the halls by name. He is a member of the Sam’s Club dry grocery team, and one of 25 Accounting and Financial Development Program (AFDP) interns working at Walmart this summer. Scott has been working closely with Sam’s Club Dry Grocery Team leader Mark Knisely on his project. The interns are all encouraged to network with leaders in the company, and while some mixers are scheduled, it is largely up to the students to initiate meetings. Three weeks into his internship, Scott had already scheduled nine interviews to meet with higher-ups!

The internship, as Scott puts it, is a “10-week interview of sorts,” and could result in a full-time position that involves rotations through different company departments. This sort of constructive training is a hallmark of the program. “It’s that constant building upon what you have until … you have this whole toolbox of skills,” Scott says. “It puts you in a different mindset.” In this way, complex problems can be reduced to simpler ones. And the best way to develop this problem-solving mentality? “The internship is a great place to start.”

The AFDP interns each have two mentors to help them handle the pressures of the job: one mentor within the assigned department and an AFDP mentor, a full-time member of the program. Scott’s AFDP mentor is Edith Castillo, a 2016 graduate of the U of A’s Sam Walton College of Business. Here they are taking a short break in the Sam’s Club lobby.

Dry grocery team leader Mark Knisley has assigned Scott an extensive project that involves integrating sales data from featured products into a user-friendly tool for merchants, allowing them to more easily plan for the future based on this year’s financial results. This sort of task is one of the many benefits of the internship program: students are able to make a genuine difference in the company. “There is no ‘go get me coffee,’” Sims says, “No ‘send this fax.’ Your project is valuable.”

Customers see great deals as they browse the Sam’s Club aisles, but Scott sees product placement, Excel spreadsheets and careful planning. Once you know what happens behind the scenes to make a Sam’s Club run smoothly, Scott says, you never look at the place the same way. “It’s so interesting to go in and see how they’re incentivizing items and interacting with customers. There’s a whole ecosystem at work.”

“Promos are a win-win for the supplier and the retailer,” Scott explains. The supplier provides the samples, and customers are incentivized to buy the product, thus increasing sales. It’s basically free marketing, he says.

Scott knows that his time at Sam’s Club is valuable, and hopes that it will serve as a springboard for something even greater. He harbors political ambitions that could carry him far beyond the typical career of an accounting major: local government, state representative, state governor…and why stop there? One day we may see President Sims being sworn into office on the 20th of January.

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