Jim Haworth has enjoyed a multi-faceted career. He’s been No. 2 at the world’s largest retailer. He’s lived in the Far East and held top positions with Professional Bull Riders and Sears/Kmart, and he is now CEO of Outdoor Cap Company.


Haworth enjoys return to NWA and retail

by Robin Mero


Jim Haworth has enjoyed a multi-faceted career. He's been No. 2 at the world's largest retailer. He's lived in the Far East and held top positions with Professional Bull Riders and Sears/Kmart, and he is now CEO of Outdoor Cap Company.


"I've loved every size of business I've been in," Haworth said. "I've learned and had fun."


The 56-year-old native of central Missouri is known in Northwest Arkansas retail circles for having been COO of Walmart during the Tom Coughlin era. Today, you'll find him dressed casually on the campus of Outdoor Cap in west Bentonville, leading day-to-day operations for the company and its 380 employees.



That's a fraction of the one million U.S. employees he oversaw at Walmart. Today he can logistically gather most of his team under one roof in Bentonville, with the exception of those working in distribution centers in Dallas and California.


"My preference is to see the people I work with," he said. "For instance, we can call the embroidery team together. Last week we had the whole company together, which is not always realistic in today's day and age."


Outdoor Cap was founded in 1977. The privately-owned company sells headwear both wholesale and retail, and stocks 7 million blank caps for sale to high schools and youth leagues under contracts with big names such as MLB.


Sales are 95% business to business, but in recent years the company bought the trendy JUNK Brands and launched direct-to-consumer line Banner & Oak, with goods designed for millennial shoppers engaged in hiking, climbing and hammocking. Sales are made via Instagram and Facebook and through bannerandoak.com.


Digital interactions and direct-to-consumer outreach are done in house.


"We're looking for different developments and trends," Haworth said. "We're evolving, making sure we're going beyond. It's fun to see where the new trends are going."


Haworth is an increasingly mature and comfortable manager. His guiding principles are being fair, firm and consistent.


"There are four key steps for any leader," he said. "You must set right expectations and give clear direction. Second, focus on how you teach, train, and develop your people to execute and achieve those expectations. Third, you have to follow up to understand how training is going, how you're achieving. And lastly, you recognize accomplishments for the expectations you set, and hold people accountable, which is hard. Most people do want to be successful, I've found."



Haworth grew up around retail; his grandfather ran an appliance business that employed several family members. The original mercantile, which his grandfather started at age 14, offered groceries and general merchandise in Centertown, Mo., with a population of about 250.


In the 1950s, Haworth's grandfather added appliances. Eventually he would close the grocery portion and focus on appliances, running the business until age 92.


Haworth was raised around the hum of store operations. His mother began doing the books for the family business when she was 14 or 15 and later became involved with sales and overall management.


When Haworth got his driver's license, he began delivering appliances to customers.


"My grandfather ran it well. He had low overhead and cash for inventory, so he could sell at a cheaper price to the region."


Haworth's dad was a high school coach for 10 years, then got a master's degree and worked for the Missouri Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.


When Haworth graduated from Central Missouri State University in 1984, his first job was as a Walmart management trainee at store No. 13 in Carthage, Missouri.


He was promoted to assistant manager in Joplin, and then his first manager's job was at store No. 144 in Fayetteville. Walmart had 650 stores and three Sam's Clubs then, so much growth was to follow.


His fourth role with the company was managing a tough store in Tulsa, which he turned around. He was promoted to district manager in Northwest Ohio, a far-reaching territory for the company at the time.


"It had had a lousy P & L and it turned out to be one of the most profitable areas in the region," Haworth said.


Eventually Haworth rose to the company's No. 2 position of chief operating officer and executive vice president, managing $198 billion in U.S. sales or 76% of global revenue. He spent 20 years with the company.


"I was fortunate that straight out of college I was surrounded by good hourly associates with specific skill sets; hardware, toys, and so forth," he said. "Those people taught me what it takes: to be part of a team, not to just be a supervisor but to work with people to get things done and be a better leader."


As his responsibility grew, the landscape broadened, but having started at a store level proved key.


"When you come from the store, you understand how people will be impacted by your decisions," Haworth said.


During those years, Haworth and his family bought Willow Springs Ranch, 900 acres across the state line in Oklahoma near Maysville and Southwest City.


"I've always had a love for the western life," he said. "My dad had a farm with cattle and my grandfather kept horses."


Later, when Haworth moved to China to run a major hypermarket chain starting in 2005, the family kept the ranch and their home in Bentonville. Their daughters attended an international school in Shanghai (their son was in college in the states). Five years later Haworth returned and worked for Sears Holdings Corporation as president of retail services over 1,300 Kmart and 900 Sears units.


He then served as Chairman and CEO for Professional Bull Riders, Inc. in Pueblo, Colorado.


"At its core, PBR had some of the same principles as retail: understanding revenue and knowing your customer. We had 'fans' instead of 'customers' but we still had to know what trends they were looking for. We wanted to make it exciting so they'd buy a ticket. We traveled market to market, like a rock concert would travel."


PBR sold in 2015 to WME/IMG, which would later buy the UFC. Haworth stayed on as chairman.


"When I started we had 100,000 Facebook followers; when I left we had 3.5 million. We had higher engagement scores than the NFL."


About that time, Haworth got a call from Paul Mahan, owner of Outdoor Cap, whom he'd known for 25 years.


"Paul called and said, 'I'm looking for a CEO; do you know anyone?' I was sitting at the ranch. I can't make the grass grow. I can only check on my horses so many times. I don't know if it's a good characteristic or a sickness, but I've always loved a challenge"


His days now center on headwear and he's excited about Outdoor Cap.


"It's a smaller category, but to us it's not just a cap," Haworth said. "We think about treatments, fabrics, trends, fashion." Outdoor Cap has perfected camo for both sexes. The company is introducing a 5-panel cap soon on Walmart shelves (6 panels has been the standard), and developed a new seamless cap with no panels.


At the end of each day, Haworth motors 45 minutes west toward the ranch, which is now his primary home along with Kathy, his wife of 34 years and sweetheart from Jefferson City High School days. As he pulls in the back gate of the ranch, his cell service drops off and so does the day's stress. He passes woods and wild game, meandering streams, a pasture with Angus cattle grazing, and his cutting horse operation, where hopeful champions are birthed and trained.


Hashtags, a blue roan stud raised on his ranch, is leading the world standings for National Cutting Horse this year.


He and Kathy have one son and two daughters, and seven grandchildren. Haworth enjoys the athletic nature of cutting-horse competition and the responsibility of protecting his land.


"I've always had a love for this kind of life. This is a great area for families; it's fun to be part of this community. Outdoor Cap was a startup in Northwest Arkansas 42 years ago, and we can be successful at least another 40 years."


He's grateful for the natural development of his career, which was helped by his network. But relationships should be developed for the right reasons, he cautioned.


"Things happen naturally as you get to know people," Haworth said. "I don't like getting to know someone just for what they'll do for you. There's an old saying, 'You can hear an empty wagon coming from a long way away.'"



Robin Mero Butler made Northwest Arkansas her home in 1994 and has written for local newspapers and magazines for two decades, focusing largely on business and courts. Robin's husband has been in the retail supplier industry for 25 years; they live in downtown Rogers and have a cabin near the Buffalo River. Robin also owns a handcrafted candle company.

Robin Mero Butler made Northwest Arkansas her home in 1994 and has written for local newspapers and magazines for two decades, focusing largely on business and courts. Robin's husband has been in the retail supplier industry for 25 years; they live in downtown Rogers and have a cabin near the Buffalo River. Robin also owns a handcrafted candle company.

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