Sustainable sourcing Insights | In our latest CPO Spotlight, Rupert Gaster spoke with Andrea Albright, Executive Vice President-Sourcing at Walmart
Tell us about your career path and your current role at Walmart…
I started at Walmart in 2005 right out of university. Initially, I did not want to work for Walmart simply because my father had worked there for 20 years. I had grown up in and around Walmart my whole life. My dad started in a small store, number 72 in Pittsburgh, Kansas, and we moved all over Western Kansas, Colorado, and eventually to Arkansas where he was a kitty litter buyer.
Growing up here in Northwest Arkansas, I wanted to carve out my own career. So, I went to university and did an internship in the UK at Debenhams in 2004. After that, I worked for another company in Taiwan. My fiancé at the time wasn’t well-travelled, and he couldn’t imagine moving to London to find a job.
I interviewed at Walmart and Target simultaneously, and I thought I could have a bigger impact at Walmart. So, 18 years later, what was meant to be a quick resume builder turned into a long-term career. Most of my early career was in merchandising. I started in apparel and textiles, worked in our New York office for four years, and eventually returned to Arkansas. I then took on roles in HR, ran about half of our food business, and two years ago, I started leading the sourcing team.
You have a very distinct leadership style; can you tell me about that and some of the key principles you follow when leading a team?
I think the biggest principle that makes a difference in any transformation is psychological safety. That’s where we start with any job I take, whether it’s a new team, a new organisation, or just running a business. I believe that in our digital communication age, nuances, emotions, and context often get lost. So, when we have face-to-face conversations, we struggle to respectfully disagree without taking offense.
In my team, we spend time focusing on psychological safety, learning to communicate effectively, building empathy, and establishing trust. We share our biggest failures, proudest moments, and personal experiences. Radical candour and psychological safety are the cornerstones of my leadership style. Behaviours matter, and if I shut down a difficult topic in a meeting, I’m not reinforcing psychological safety. Recognition of the right behaviour is crucial, and the team’s feedback loop is vital.
With 23 offices worldwide, understanding cultural differences is essential. What psychological safety means in the US may differ, for example, in China. Building trust, collaboration, and empathy are critical across diverse contexts.
How do you foster innovation and continuous improvement within your team, Andrea?
Being okay with failure and rewarding curiosity are key. Great ideas can come from all levels of the company and fostering curiosity at every level is essential. We encourage the belief that everyone, from hourly associates to leadership, can have a meaningful impact. Embracing failure is crucial because it often leads to discovering new paths. Innovation and continuous improvement involve trying different approaches, learning from failures, and leveraging curiosity to uncover alternative solutions.
You’ve talked a lot about your team strategy. What are the core parts of that strategy?
Our strategy boils down to trust, value, and resiliency. Trust encompasses quality, supplier relationships, ethical and regenerative sourcing . Resiliency involves maximising opportunities, mitigating risks, and ensuring supply chain redundancy. Value centres on delivering on our company mission to save people money so they can live better. We want to create value for the customer and make sure we’re delivering on that purpose every single day. We aim to meet that value expectation for the customer in a trusted and resilient way. This simple framework guides decision-making, aligning the team with the company’s mission and values.
How big of a part does sustainability play in your role?
Sustainability is a huge factor in every decision we make. It aligns with trust, value, and resiliency, and is a big part of our trust strategy. We want to work with suppliers who are sourcing products in a sustainable and regenerative way, including raw materials, and we want to work with suppliers that engage with their community. We want to know that they are thinking about the future. We integrate sustainability into our daily decision-making rather than treating it as a separate project. For transformational impact, sustainability decisions must be on par with everyday decisions. Sustainably sourced products should be accessible to all customers.
What do you see as the future of sourcing?
Regeneration and resiliency will remain crucial. While we’ll always be a global business, local sourcing in all markets where we have stores remains important because it allows for us to react quickly to customer needs. For example, over 2/3 of Walmart US products are made, grown, or assembled in the US. . Supplier development, particularly in local communities, is vital for shaping the future of supply chains. Innovation, especially in raw materials, will continue to play a crucial role. Companies like Rubi Laboratories, focusing on sustainable raw materials, demonstrate the potential for disrupting supply chains in a regenerative way.
We must continue to develop our suppliers, making sure they’re ready for the future. The entrepreneurs we’re working with today might become our biggest export providers 10 years from now. The investment I make now, helps to shape the future of what our supply chain might look like. So, I think supplier development will continue to be really important and having that local community connection too. When we write a purchase order, it not only helps the local economy, but it also has a ripple effect through that community.
What advice do you have for individuals aspiring to leadership roles?
Curiosity, asking questions, and being open to learning and feedback are crucial. Hard work is irreplaceable, and success requires dedication. Enjoy the journey, recognising that it may not unfold as expected.
What are you most passionate about outside of work?
Curiosity and making an impact beyond my own world motivate me. My experience as a single mum for four years shaped my career, leading me to invest time in women and children’s charities. Running is my happy place, and I also enjoy gardening and cooking. Giving back to the community is really important to me.
I’m forever going back to school. I keep going back to university and I promised my husband my last one was it! I finished my last course in 2020, so I’m trying not to go back to school… but I’m itching to start the next thing.