by Julia Hanna
Harvard Business School
Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, sold $315.6 billion worth of goods in 2006. With its single-minded focus on “EDLP” (everyday low prices) and the power to make or break suppliers, a partnership with Wal-Mart is either the Holy Grail or the kiss of death, depending on one’s perspective. There are numerous media accounts of the corporate monolith riding its suppliers into the ground. But what about those who manage to survive, and thrive, while dealing with the classic hardball negotiator?
In “Sarah Talley and Frey Farms Produce: Negotiating with Wal-Mart” and “Tom Muccio: Negotiating the P&G Relationship with Wal-Mart,” HBS professor Jim Sebenius and Research Associate Ellen Knebel show two very different organizations doing just that. The cases are part of a series that involve hard bargaining situations.
“The concept of win-win bargaining is a good and powerful message,” Sebenius says, “but a lot of our students and executives face counterparts who aren’t interested in playing by those rules. So what happens when you encounter someone with a great deal of power, like Wal-Mart, who is also the ultimate non-negotiable partner?”
The case details how P&G executive Tom Muccio pioneers a new supplier-retailer partnership between P&G and Wal-Mart. Built on proximity (Muccio relocated to Wal-Mart’s turf in Arkansas) and growing trust (both sides eventually eliminated elaborate legal contracts in favor of Letters of Intent), the new relationship focused on establishing a joint vision and problem-solving process, information sharing, and generally moving away from the “lowest common denominator” pricing issues that had defined their interactions previously. From 1987, when Muccio initiated the changes, to 2003, shortly before his retirement, P&G’s sales to Wal-Mart grew from $350 million to $7.8 billion.