At Wal Mart, The Welcome Mat Was Out

In "Wal-Mart without the window dressing" (Books, Jan. 11), Wendy Zellner states that my book, In Sam We Trust, borrows liberally from Sam Walton's autobiography and a biography by Vance Trimble, "mostly because the Walton family and most Wal-Mart executives declined to cooperate." In fact, I spoke on the record with scores of people at the company, including co-founder Bud Walton, President and CEO David Glass, Vice-Chairman and Chief Operating Officer Donald Soderquist, and many others at every level. I also interviewed more than 60 people who worked closely with or knew Sam Walton well, including current and former directors; Walton's personal secretary, Becky Elliott; and many early executives.

While I do quote from Walton's autobiography and Trimble's biography in places, my narrative, based on extensive firsthand research, is sharply and continually at odds with the portrait of Walton and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. painted in those books, and in many place directly contradicts their accounts.

Also, far from pointing the finger at consumers for Wal-Mart's failings, I place responsibility where it belongs: on the shoulders of the executives. There is a difference between blaming consumers and pointing out, as I do, that companies such as Wal-Mart will respond to public pressure to change their behavior. In fact, we've seen that happen: Public pressure led Wal-Mart to adopt a code of conduct for its suppliers and, more recently, to take steps to make that code more enforceable.

Bob Ortega