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In the months leading up to Shoptalk Meetup for Women, the Shoptalk team is producing an Original Content series on The State of Women Working in Retail that explores four phases of women’s leadership in our industry: Where We Are, How We Got Here, How We’re Making Waves and Where We’re Headed.

The next phase of our Framework, How We’re Making Waves, highlights women changemakers at the forefront of industry transformation and the lessons they have learned during their careers.

We spoke with Anshu Bhardwaj, Walmart’s VP, Technology Strategy & Commercialization, about innovation, staying nimble and always raising your hand.

Anshu Bhardwaj is making a name for herself at Walmart. From leading the product team that created Sam’s Club’s industry-leading Scan & Go technology, to overseeing a team that’s developing and operationalizing Walmart’s comprehensive tech strategy, she’s playing an integral role in the technological and cultural transformation of the world’s largest retailer.

But her journey has been anything but typical for a retail tech leader. Having started her career in the U.S. as an investment banker at Bear Stearns, Anshu quickly learned the importance of being nimble and raising her hand for new opportunities--lessons for other rising women leaders.

Anshu Bhardwaj interview, Shoptalk

Laying the Foundation for Success

One of Anshu’s earliest wins came in 2010, shortly after joining Walmart as senior manager of finance. The M&A team she was part of acquired more than a dozen technology companies over a year, proving the retailer’s dedication to technology and top engineering talent.

“The goal was to get Silicon Valley style innovation and fail-fast culture into the DNA of the company,” Anshu said.

The deals laid the foundation for Walmart’s technology arm, Walmart Global Tech. The group now employs 16,000+ software engineers, data scientists, technologists and enterprise business service professionals.

Anshu’s next career pivot came as senior director, site and mobile experience at Sam’s Club--a role she landed with no product or engineering background. Anshu credits her successful transition to her ability to think from a customer’s point of view first and ask the right questions, and her experience evaluating tech companies and solving problems to launch successful products. Her understanding of the Sam’s Club business and process flows were also crucial.

Stars

For example, by understanding the steps required to sign up Sam’s Club members for its Plus Membership and credit card, Anshu led the effort to combine process and technology to slash the 40-minute process to 4 minutes. She meanwhile reduced the amount of hardware required, from six pieces to two.

One of Anshu’s biggest achievements at Sam’s Club came as product lead for its Scan & Go technology, a mobile self-checkout offering. Anshu’s team of three--one product manager and two engineers--was small, nimble and “scrappy.” They created the proof of concept in less than two months.

“At any large company you can quickly get bogged down, but we moved with speed by working in a true venture-funded team fashion,” Anshu said.

At any large company you can quickly get bogged down, but we moved with speed by working in a true venture-funded team fashion.

Customer feedback from two test clubs went directly to her team, enabling them to iterate quickly to improve the customer experience. For example, upon receiving feedback that an in-club discount treasure hunt was a burdensome customer experience, they scrapped the feature--even though it had lifted sales.

“Anshu is one of those rare leaders who excels at both the employee- and customer-facing levels,” said Jamie Iannone, CEO at eBay, who previously worked with Anshu as CEO of SamsClub.com. “What impressed me most about working with [her] is her dedication to building strong and effective teams, her strength in creating and executing thoughtful strategies, and her passion for doing what’s right for the customer.”

Taking an Iterative Approach to Work and Life

In November 2019, Anshu made her latest pivot, into her current role as Walmart’s VP, Technology Strategy & Commercialization and chief of staff to Walmart’s global Chief Technology Officer and Chief Development Officer, Suresh Kumar.

Her team develops and operationalizes Walmart’s technology strategy through a “push-and-pull” model, meaning they explore use cases for emerging technologies unrelated to specific business problems (push), and help Walmart’s business units use technology to solve problem statements (pull). She founded the technology commercialization efforts by Walmart. Her team identifies technology capabilities that combine the company’s technological prowess with retail operational excellence at scale.

Anshu also leads a team that scouts companies to fill gaps in Walmart’s capabilities--they evaluated over 200 targets last year. A critical element in her decision-making process is to ensure technologies drive revenue and customer satisfaction while also reducing cost.

“We're constantly looking for ways to drive innovation. But at the same time, you have to be cognizant of the fact that whatever you do in the Walmart context should be able to scale,” she said. For example, Sam’s Club’s associate-facing voice assistant is now available to Walmart associates across the U.S., and their feedback helps inform customer-facing solutions.

Anshu’s biggest advice for successful technology launches is to avoid massive unveilings in favor of the test, deploy and iterate approach she employed for Scan & Go. She helped Walmart implement this innovation culture long before the pandemic forced other large retailers to embrace it.

This iterative approach has been critical to Anshu’s career too. Her diverse experiences spanning product, business, finance, M&A and strategy give her a holistic perspective she may not have developed following a more focused career path--or failed to raise her hand.

“It's really important to raise your hand and have a view on what you want to do and then go ask for it, because if you don't ask, the answer is always no,” she said.

It's really important to raise your hand and have a view on what you want to do and then go ask for it, because if you don't ask, the answer is always no.

“For me, I think that's really held up, especially in the last 10 years of my career when I've asked for different things, and I've been really grateful for leaders at Walmart who have given them to me. But again, if I hadn't asked, then I wouldn't have gotten them either. So, yes, please. Absolutely do raise your hand.”

For more on How We’re Making Waves, join us as Shoptalk’s Original Content series continues in two weeks. We’ll hear from Gina Drosos, CEO of Signet Jewelers, who’s transforming the jewelry chain and positioning it for omnichannel success. The series culminates May 11-13, 2021 at Shoptalk Meetup for Women.