Kurt Herkert is the director of operations for the Pennsylvania Region of Walmart and a George Mason School of Management alumnus. Herkert graduated in 1985 with a BS in public administration and returned to earn his MBA in 1993. He has continued to show support to the School of Management as an active member of our alumni community.
We asked Kurt a couple questions about his time at Mason, working his way up the corporate ladder at Walmart, and his advice to current students.
What do you do in your role as director of operations for the Pennsylvania Region?
I am directly responsible for 46 stores in 6 markets. My team includes 632 salaried managers and 14,000 hourly associates.
What has contributed to your success?
I attribute my success to my work ethic. Apart from this, I hold myself and my direct reports accountable for results. There is much you can do to differentiate yourself, like being involved in your alma mater, but getting results that exceed those of your peers is your ticket to the game.
Another factor that has attributed to my success is continuing my learning. It’s important to stay relevant and learn new innovations or technology. Your learning should never stop. Finally, I’d say my success has stemmed from respecting my peers, supervisors, and especially subordinates. You never know when your direct report will later be your supervisor. And be genuine–everyone can sense a fake.
Where do you see your industry headed over the next few years?
I think it will continue to develop and increase its online presence. Shopping in stores will become more convenient–planning your route, scanning your own goods and paying on your iPhone. There will be an emphasis on easing the in-person shopping experience now that we have the option to shop from our couches at home. I believe differentiating based on price will continue to become more complex. Prices will decline as retailers find ways to lower costs through innovations.
If you weren’t working in the retail industry, what other profession would you chose?
I would like to teach. I had many professors at Mason who had come from the business community and found that their real-world experience added insight to what I had learned from life-long educators. I have enjoyed the opportunity I have had to influence so many people’s lives in my career and respect the impact educators have on our futures.
Are you involved with the community or any groups outside the workplace?
Yes, I am currently on the Board of The Challenge Program. This organization connects businesses with the opportunity to provide financial incentives to high school students to achieve an improved GPA, attendance, and community service. There are many other organizations I support, including Feeding the Hungry and Dress for Success. Previously, I have sat on the boards of many Chambers of Commerce and have served as the President of the United Way in Upstate NY. I also sat on the advisory board for the School of Management.
I try to participate in any opportunity provided as an alumnus. For example, I facilitated the granting of $25,000 from the Walmart Foundation to the School of Management. I also secured our senior divisional vice president, Henry Jordan, as a speaker for the School of Management’s Johnson & Strachan Distinguished Speaker Series. Apart from this, I have participated in the selection of scholarship recipients.
Do you think social media is helpful in your career? If so, how do you use social media?
I think everyone in business should connect via LinkedIn. I have reconnected with many people with whom I used to work and wish that more would get on LinkedIn so I could find them. You never know when an unexpected opportunity might be out there or when you might need a reference from someone in your past. Likewise, social media can do a lot of damage if used improperly. It is healthy to facilitate idea sharing as long as professionalism is maintained.
Tell us about a mentor that made an impact on your life.
The former senior vice president of our division, Mike Huffaker, talked me into interviewing and ultimately joining Walmart. He provided much professional and personal guidance and we stayed in touch long after I finished working with him. Years later, when I was promoted to market manager, Mike was one of the first to call and congratulate me. It made an impression on me that someone working in our International Division, with major responsibilities, took the time to think of the guy he recruited many years ago. I often think of Mike when I ask myself how I impact those that work with me now.
Why did you choose George Mason University over other universities?
My family moved to Northern Virginia after my senior year of high school. Mason seemed an obvious choice. I chose Mason the second time for my master’s program because of the flexibility and variety of class offerings. It was a great place to go to college, and I am in awe of what students are provided there today.
Where do you hope to see George Mason University and the School of Management in the next 5-10 years?
I like Dean Haddock’s vision for the School of Management. We should strive to be recognized as one of the top business schools by increasing [our position in the] rankings. I want to see the school grow to become the business school of choice due to its geographic location and quality professors. Along with this, I think the reputation of a university is established through its alumni. We should continue to use social media to connect, and I look forward to seeing that network grow.
Tell us about an unforgettable moment that occurred during your time at Mason.
I was a young kid from Illinois starting college with a bunch of strangers. I met another guy from Illinois, Charlie Gomez, in my calculus class. He invited me to join Kappa Sigma. Through this, I made many friends in my and other fraternities and sororities. My Kappa Sigma Big Brother, Al Johnson, continues to be one of my best friends. He is also very involved as an alumnus and member of the Dean’s Council.
What career/professional advice do you have for today’s college students?
When you accept a job offer or select an employer, think long term on potential and compensation. Many of the most successful people I know took low paying jobs right of college. Keep work and personal life separate. While Facebook is great, LinkedIn is better for professional communication. Maintain your professional distance with those you work with so that you maintain objectivity and avoid appearance of preferential treatment.
Walmart recently made a $25,000 gift to diversity initiatives at the School of Management.