College of Business: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Passion at Work


10/13/2011

Karenann Terrell is an executive vice president and assistant chief information officer for the world’s largest corporation, Walmart, Inc.

If that doesn’t make you wince at just how overwhelming the job must be, consider that this $400 billion retail business collects more data than Google and Facebook. Only Homeland Security has a bigger database.

Walmart has done this for a long time too, or as Terrell says, “We were big data before big data was cool.”

Walmart uses this data to deliver food (they are the largest grocery in the U.S.) and all the other things you expect to find at Walmart, efficiently and at less cost. Terrell and 7,000 associates she works with in Bentonville, Arkansas make it possible to continuously supply more than 4,000 stores nationwide (9,000 worldwide) and in 26 countries around the world. It is truly an inspiring achievement.

And Terrell is truly inspired by Walmart. At the Alan M. Hallene Lecture last week, Terrell told a packed auditorium of students never to work without passion and she really meant it. A former CIO at Baxter International Inc., Chrysler Group and Mercedes Benz North America, Terrell has always followed her passion. Trained as an electrical engineer, she is a pilot, classic car enthusiast and a passionate supporter of math and science education in the k-12 public education system.

Terrell’s talk, “Technology—Powering the Next Generation of Walmart” was about the dynamic growth opportunities at Walmart. She spoke about the directions of Walmart growth and the store of the future. Terrell said Walmart is moving toward a self-service model where one day register lines will be fundamentally different. She spoke of integrated technology that helps consumers find what they want with GPS technology, innovation that provides amazing back-end processes that track and manage product flows from the manufacturer to a consumer’s cart or home via online sales and delivery.

Terrell shared with the audience her passion for Walmart and why she “detached from the silk pillow I had in Chicago” working for Baxter International Inc. Walmart’s business model is literally changing the world and said she is excited about influencing that progress. She marveled about Walmart’s 9.1 million Facebook fans and several other number heavy metrics. It was clear that Terrell lives and breathes numbers, and that she has found her passion with Walmart.

The Hallene Lecture is named for the late Alan Hallene (’51 Mechanical Engineering), president of Montgomery Elevator Company in Moline, IL, president of the UI Alumni Association (’73-75), and president of UI Foundation (’84-87). The lecture series honors Al Hallene’s memory with its support of visiting executives like Terrell who inspire students to explore opportunities that can change the world.


In 2001, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation made a gift to The Hoeft Technology and Management Program that provides for the series, in which leading academics and senior executives visit students with insights on management issues and industry trends. The gift honors Al Hallene, who was a member of the MacArthur Board of Directors.

UIUC College of Business