Bloomberg has taken a look at how the people some in Northwest Arkansas refer to as W IIII — the third-generation Walton heirs who are grandchildren of Walmart founder Sam Walton — are spending and investing their millions. Some of it’s familiar, some perhaps not so much.
Grandson Ben Walton, 44, owns Zoma Capital, which makes investments in areas such as energy and water. His cousins Steuart and Tom bought Rapha, a high-end British cycling brand, for a reported $225 million in 2017. Tom’s Ropeswing Group operates an assortment of restaurants in Bentonville, Arkansas, that target millennials.
“The Walton family has groomed the next generation as a generation of entrepreneurs,” said Byron Trott, founder of merchant bank BDT Capital Partners, who advises some of the world’s richest families.
Their high-profile investments mark a change from the previous generation, who are now in their late 60s and 70s. Despite their staggering wealth, Alice, Jim, Rob and the late John Walton kept their investments and ventures largely under wraps. But that’s changing as the younger Waltons exert more influence.
The most visible signs are in the family’s hometown. Bentonville features a clutch of trendy bars and eateries, including the Holler, a warehouse-size establishment featuring shuffleboard lanes and plant-based burgers, and Undercroft, a speakeasy below a historic church that’s now a high-end restaurant.
They’re all part of Ropeswing, which aims to remake Bentonville into a destination for young workers and their families. Bicycle trails that crisscross the town’s outskirts are the first step in plans by Tom and brother Steuart, both in their 30s, to turn Bentonville into a cycling mecca, while Steuart co-founded a company that makes aerobatic and touring airplanes. An unnamed Walton family member now sits on the board of FoodMaven, a startup that sells discounted surplus food, in which the family has an investment.
The article delves into corporate roles for the generation, investments in trusts and outside the company and other issues.
Coincidentally, a reader told me about this article this just minutes after some discussion in the office about how wonderful it would be if some of the fortunes based in Little Rock would contribute as the Waltons have done to music, theater, visual art and other aesthetic endeavors from Fayetteville to Bentonville.
The topic was on my mind because of The Rep’s announcement Thursday of a new season under new artistic director Will Trice, a Broadway pro and old friend who has the knowhow and energy to restore the shine to Little Rock’s venerable but financially struggling theater company. Good shows with stellar casts and lots of ticket sales won’t hurt. But I can’t think of a major arts institution in the country that doesn’t depend on a well of significant private philanthropy. Maybe the younger Waltons could toss a few million in Walmart chump change a few hundred miles down the road in Little Rock. The charter school kids their family money is financing here would appreciate good theater, too, I bet.