Age: 64 (born October 7, 1949)
Residence: Rocking W Ranch, Millsap, TX
In July 2013, Alice Walton was named one of the world’s top ten art collectors by ARTNews magazine, a title that reflects her consistent purchases of renowned and expensive works of art. As the magazine’s editor told the LA Times, “You can’t get on [the list] by buying one expensive Monet. It’s people intensively collecting high-level work throughout the year.”
The Walton family owns a majority stake in Walmart. Most of the family’s shares are held by Walton Enterprises, the family holding company that Alice manages with her siblings Rob and Jim, both directly and through their trusteeship of their late brother John’s estate. The Waltons’ stake in Walmart only recently crossed the 50% threshold, and this has implications under New York Stock Exchange rules. As a June 2013 Bloomberg story explained, “[Some] institutional investors are expressing concern that the founding family’s stake allows the chain to have a minority of independent directors. As a result of buybacks, the Waltons own at least 50.9 percent of outstanding shares, up from about 39 percent a decade ago. Under New York Stock Exchange rules, that makes Wal-Mart a controlled company, allowing it to opt out of a requirement to have a majority of independent directors.”
Educational and professional background
Education: Trinity University (San Antonio, TX); BS, Economics and Finance, 1971
- Walton’s Rocking W Ranch: Walton, a lifelong equestrienne, raises cutting horses on her ranch in Millsap, Texas, where she moved in 1998. (In cutting competitions, a horse and rider separate a cow from its herd and keep it separated for a period of time.) The trainer at Rocking W is Jesse Lennox. The ranch is reportedly 3,200 acres, although property records indicate that various Walton entities own around 6,000 acres—over nine square miles—worth over $21 million in Palo Pinto and Parker Counties in Texas.
- Llama Company (Fayetteville, AR) – President, Chairman, and CEO [1988 – ?]: Walton founded Llama, a regional investment company, in 1988, using both her own money and money from Walton Enterprises. The company is named after a llama that trucking company magnate J.B. Hunt once bought for Walton.
- Arvest Bank Group – Vice Chairman, head of investment-related activities [1982-1988]: During her time at the family-owned bank, Walton encouraged the establishment of Arvest Asset Management as a side business and subsidiary of Arvest Bank. AAM is now a full-service broker and provides money management services. Alice’s brother, Jim, is Chairman and CEO of Arvest.
- E.F. Hutton (New Orleans, LA) – Broker [1975-1979]: Walton became involved in some controversy at Hutton: “In 1979 the SEC accused Alice—then a 25-year-old broker—and 11 other Hutton employees in eight cities of making ‘unsuitable’ option trades for customers. In a letter Alice wrote to the SEC on April 18, 1979, she denied that she violated any laws but accepted a settlement ‘to avoid protracted litigation.’ She was suspended from the securities business for six months.”
- First Commerce Corporation – equity analyst and money manager: On her personal website, Walton says that she “began her career in finance as an equity analyst and money manager for First Commerce Corporation.” Her dates of employment and additional information about her work there remain unclear.
- Walmart: Following her graduation from Trinity University in 1971, Walton worked for a short time as a children’s clothes buyer for Walmart. “They are still trying to get rid of the children’s dresses I bought, and that was a while back,” she told the New Yorker. “I had fun, but it wasn’t my interest.”
Walton is a registered voter in Texas. She registered in the state in June 2008.
Federal election contributions
Walton has given nearly $500,000 in federal election contributions since the beginning of the 2008 election cycle. Alice Walton made headlines for her largest contributions: a total of $200,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC associated with Mitt Romney’s 2012 run for President. A third of her contributions from 2007-2012 went to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. The only Democrats she has contributed to since the start of the 2008 cycle are Hillary Clinton ($2,300 in July 2008) and Blanche Lincoln ($400 in September 2007).
Examples of state-level contributions
- Washington: Alice Walton gave $1.7 million in favor of a 2012 state-wide charter school initiative, which was nicknamed “the billionaires’ initiative” because of massive financial support from Walton and other colossally wealthy donors like Bill Gates. Walton was the second largest donor to the initiative. It was the fourth time that a charter school initiative had been on the ballot in Washington; all of the previous initiatives failed including the one in 2004, to which Alice’s late brother, John, was the biggest contributor. He spent over $1.02 million.
- Wisconsin: As the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism reported in September 2011, Alice Walton was the top individual contributor to winning state legislative candidates in the 2010 elections that put Republicans in control of the state government. Under the first budget passed by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-majority legislature, funding for public schools was cut by $800 million over two years, while funding for programs that funnel public money to private schools increased by $17 million over two years.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, funded by the Walton Family Foundation and led by Alice Walton, opened in Bentonville November 11, 2011. The editor of Art in America magazine told USA Today that the highly-anticipated Crystal Bridges was going to be one of the most important new museums in U.S. history and “will demand attention on a global playing field,” while the New York Times noted that it “promises to alter the landscape of art in America.” Walton told the Times in June 2011 that she wanted to make Bentonville a destination for art enthusiasts, and the museum was expected to spur economic growth in Northwest Arkansas, as well.
Crystal Bridges received a special tax exemption approved by the Arkansas state legislature in 2005, just prior to the formal announcement of plans to build the museum. Act 1865, sponsored by Horace Hardwick, at the time the Republican state representative from Bentonville, established a sales and use tax exemption for non-profit museums for building construction and purchase of art. Since Arkansas does not require museums to report on their spending, it is impossible to determine the size of the tax benefit to the museum or the corresponding tax loss to the state.
Walton, a long-time art collector, first floated the idea of opening an art museum on family land at a few Walton family meetings more than a decade ago, and began collecting art specifically for the museum in 2005. But it has been reported that her purchases have rattled some nerves in the art establishment of major metropolitan areas. Some fear that she has used her family fortune to move paintings from the cities they have long been displayed in and could continue to overpower and outbid other collectors and museums.
The Walton family and the Walton Family Foundation have reportedly invested more than $650 million into the museum, whose opening was originally set for 2009 but postponed because of construction delays. In May 2011, in what is possibly the largest-ever gift to an American museum, the Walton Family Foundation endowed Crystal Bridges with an additional $800 million for its operating budget, acquisitions, and capital improvements. And in July 2011, Walmart announced that it was giving Crystal Bridges $20 million to make admission to the museum free for all visitors.
Other community connections
- Amon Carter Museum of American Art (Ft. Worth, TX), Board of Trustees
- National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC), Trustees’ Council
- University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (Little Rock, AR), Board
- University of Arkansas Graduate Business School (Fayetteville, AR), Board of Advisors
- Camp War Eagle, a Christian summer camp in the Ozarks, is funded by the Walton Family Foundation and was Alice Walton’s vision.
- Northwest Arkansas Council: In 1990, Walton became the first chairperson of the Northwest Arkansas Council, a regional development non-profit whose original membership included Arkansas business magnates such as her father, John Tyson, and J.B. Hunt. The council was instrumental in the creation several major Northwest Arkansas infrastructure projects, including the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (see below), highway improvements and connections, and a $45 million water system for the Benton-Washington Regional Public Water Authority.
- Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport: During her time as chairperson of the Northwest Arkansas Council, Walton was deeply involved in establishing the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, or XNA. The CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Airport Authority described her role in the airport’s development and establishment of the local airport authority as “critical.” The Walton family purchased the first $5 million in bonds to support the construction of the airport, and Walton’s Llama Company underwrote nearly $80 million in airport bonds before the airport had any contracts with airlines. The Federal Aviation Administration provided an additional $69 million towards the $107 million cost of the airport. The airport opened in November 1998, and its terminal was named for Walton in 1999. As a result of her efforts to open the airport, Walton was inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame in 2001. Shortly before the airport opened, ABC’s 20/20 aired a piece on XNA that was highly critical of the airport and its development. Anchor Hugh Downs highlighted detractors who called XNA “an outrageous waste of money.”
- University of Arkansas: In 1996, following a $4 million gift from Helen Walton, the College of Business at the University of Arkansas established the Alice L. Walton Chair in Finance and planned to recruit a “prominent educator” for the position. The current Alice L. Walton Chair is Professor Wayne Y. Lee, the Executive Director of the University’s Garrison Financial Institute. In 2012, Walton received an honorary degree from the school.
- Once served on the board of Pace Industries