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How the heirs of the richest family in the world are changing it

Members of the world’s wealthiest family are using their vast fortunes to back some of the most innovative and progressive venture-based groups in the world. But they might just be taking inspiration from their old economy family business, Walmart.   

Lukas Walton, a third-generation heir worth an estimated $16 billion, backs S2G Ventures, a Chicago based fund that invested in Beyond Meat, a Californian startup that made history as the first plant-based meat company to land on the Nasdaq in 2019. Beyond Meat investors all made serious returns either through its various venture rounds and/or with its IPO last year. No doubt that helped Lukas’ to back a $100 million seafood fund within S2G to find the next sustainable big hitter in the aquaculture sector.

While their business activities show the Walton grandchildren have the potential to be the most prominent third-gen investors around, maybe the proverbial apples haven’t fallen far from the tree

His cousin, Ben Walton, also favours disruptive ventures and runs Denver-based Zoma Capital, a family investment office, with his wife Lucy Ana Walton. In 2017, they formed Pescador Holdings with a New York private equity firm and invested in Geomar, a Chilean company that claims to source fish with minimal environmental impact. Zoma has been a big investor in clean-energy initiatives.

Another set of third-generation Waltons, brothers Steuart and Tom Walton, also run their own investment firm, the Bentonville, Arkansas based RZC Investments that funds vehicle and transport ventures. Among their investments is a majority stake in UK bikewear business, Rapha, which they bought for $200 million in 2017.

While their business activities show the Walton grandchildren have the potential to be the most prominent third-gen investors around, maybe the proverbial apples haven’t fallen far from the tree. 

Top family enterprise adviser, Byron Trott said the Walton family have groomed their successors to become entrepreneurs, but perhaps it’s the Walmart institution itself that taught them lessons in innovation, adaptation and an ability to spot opportunities.

With revenues of more than $500 billion in 2018, Walmart’s reputation for commercial success is well known, but its status as a retail innovator less so. Since 2000, Walmart has built up a strong online presence through in-house development and a series of external acquisitions to compete with Amazon’s domination of the global e-commerce space. 

In 2016, Walmart paid $3.3 billion for Jet, a shopping platform that lets customers browse items from various retailers. This was followed by the purchase of Bonobos, a menswear e-commerce platform in 2017 and Flipkart, an Indian e-commerce company with a customer base of over 100 million users,  in 2019. Recently, Walmart has said it would bid for the US business of the mobile video group, TikTok. 

Internally, Walmart has worked to scale its offerings from groceries to include clothing, home furnishings and fast pickup and delivery options, including a store-to-door service in under two hours that puts its online services on par with Amazon. Walmart’s innovation efforts saw online sales rise by 37% last year, and during Covid-19, they experienced a digital sales boom akin to Amazon where transactions rose by 74% in the first quarter of 2020.

But impact investing isn’t limited to the family’s third generation. Sam Walton’s oldest son, Rob Walton, runs the Menlo Park-based Madrone Capital Partners, an investment firm which helped Cue, a San Diego health-tech company,  raise $102.6 million in a Series C funding round this year, the firm also has a stake in Achates Power, a business that produces sustainable internal combustion engines for commercial vehicles. 

Christy Walton, the mother of Lukas who has her own $7.2 billion fortune inherited from her late husband John Walton, also runs her own investment vehicle called Cuna del Mar that funds sustainable aquaculture ventures.

Aside from their commercial projects, sustainability initiatives remain a cornerstone of the family’s activities as a philanthropic institution. In 2017, their family foundation announced a $37 million initiative to help preserve the ocean ecosystem and coastal economy in the US. They are also said to be one of the largest donors to the Marine Stewardship Council, an international non-profit organisation that supports sustainable fishing.

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One response to “How the heirs of the richest family in the world are changing it

  1. This story shows how next generation families are not only practicing philanthropy, but they are developing new leaders who apply family values and practices to their commercial ventures, to add value to the family in both financial and social “capital”. Very inspiring. The key is how to encourage and develop the skills and capability of this new generation to do with work with ever greater impact.
    Dennis Jaffe

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