Celebrating the Renaissance and visiting submarines in the vast plains of Oklahoma!

I drove to The Castle, near the small town of Muskogee, where for decades now, the annual Oklahoma Renaissance Festival has been taking place. The scope of the festival is far in excess of what you would expect in a town of only 40,000.


My main interest was the jousting, and I was not disappointed. The Lord welcomed all and introduced the main characters. The silly guy doing the can-can is the Ambassador from France. Ha!


The lovely Joust Master.


The “Good” Knight.


The “Bad” Knight, getting his helmet on after the display of skills.


And the jousting. Continue reading

Arkansas: unlikely birthplace of the Tycoon, the General and the President.

This is where it all began (sort of): Sam Walton’s nickel and dime store, in Bentonville, Arkansas. It was actually his second store as the first Walmart (by name), is in a nearby town but has long been taken over by other businesses when Walmart outgrew the building. This little store has become the symbolic first and is now a museum to the greatest commercial enterprise ever built.


It is difficult to compare Walmart to any other retail giant, so let’s compare it to a country. Walmart’s annual sales of $469 Billion in 2012 exceeded the GDP of 167 of the world’s 193 countries. 59 countries have a total population that is smaller than the total number of Walmart employees, 2.2 Million. The founder prided himself on spending little time in the office and a lot of time in the stores meeting his “associates”. With close to 10,000 locations in 15 countries, he would have found that quite challenging these days.


The success left the four kids rather well off (actually 3 kids and a widow now). Combined, they are by far the richest people in the world, with a combined net worth of $107 Billion. Two of their cousins also got a few shares, now worth $8.4 B. Even after the business went public, there was much money to be made. 1000 stocks bought at IPO in 1970 (for $16,500), would now be worth about $150 million.


I wonder if the descendants remained as down to Earth as their father was. While big innovations were high on the list of Walton’s priorities (computerized inventory before everyone else), his connection with employees, his presence in the stores and his attitude were apparently the stuff of legends. He certainly had a down-to-earth attitude; I can’t imagine too many CEOs walking around with a name tag that reads “Sam”.


While this is certainly not the Smithsonian, it’s worth a stop if you are in Bentonville (admittedly, a big “if”). I was impressed looking at this hand drawn layout of a store plan that would end up being reproduced on a massive scale, thousands of times around the world. Continue reading