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Last updated on Friday, March 30, 2012, 4:38 pm

Steve Bratspies

Walmart Exec Takes ‘Old-Fashioned' Approach with Heart Walk

by Rob Keys

Not long after Steve Bratspies agreed to serve as chairperson of the 2011 Northwest Arkansas Heart Walk, he set a fundraising goal of $650,000.

Considering the previous year’s event had raised about half that much, it seems reasonable to wonder why he set such a lofty goal.

“That goal was set by basically just looking at the opportunity in this market,” said Bratspies, senior vice president of dry grocery for Walmart U.S.

The opportunity was there largely due to the presence of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., similar heavyweights in other industries, and the presence of a bevy of ancillary companies whose primary function is to serve them. Still, the plan had to be executed, and Bratspies relied on a proven formula to make it happen.

“It was kind of doing it the old-fashioned Walmart way,” he said. “We put a stretch goal in place, and then it was just a matter of finding the right people to get it done.”

According to an American Heart Association news release issued prior to this year’s event — to be held April 14 at Arvest Ballpark in Springdale — Bratspies’ $650,000 goal was reached. Now he’s chairing the event again, and this time with an even higher fundraising goal of $800,000.

Bratspies laughed when asked if $800,000 is a stretch goal, too.

“Yeah, probably,” he said, “but we’re planning on getting there.”

As of March 27, total local donations stood at about $460,000, according to the AHA Northwest Arkansas chapter’s website.

More than a million people participate in Heart Walks in more than 300 cities nationwide, according to the AHA. Local organizers expect more than 10,000 to take part in the 10 a.m. walk at Arvest Ballpark.

The event is held annually to raise awareness — and funds for research — for cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 killer of all Americans. AHA research shows that someone dies from cardiovascular disease every 38 seconds, that it kills more women than all forms of cancer combined, and congenital cardiovascular defects are the most common cause of infant death from birth defect.

According to the Arkansas Department of Health, heart disease also is the leading cause of death in the state.

“It’s something I’ve become increasingly aware of through the community and people in my life,” Bratspies said.

AHA state director of communications Alexis Sims said teams from about 90 companies are expected to participate in the Northwest Arkansas walk. She also said the AHA recently released a policy statement showing worksite wellness programs have been proven to prevent risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Some programs have achieved a rate of return on investment that ranges from $3 to $15 for each dollar invested, with savings realized within 12 to 18 months, according to the policy statement. The statement also said meta-analyses of some programs have shown a 28 percent average reduction in sick leave absenteeism, a 26 percent reduction in health care costs, and a 30 percent decrease in workers’ compensation and disability management claims costs.

Bratspies said Walmart’s involvement in the Heart Walk is a natural fit.

“It’s important to us because it’s important to our associates and it’s important to our customers,” he said. “Heart disease impacts so many people.

“It’s fundamental to Walmart to help people save money and live better. Part of living better is understanding the importance of being heart-healthy.”

With that in mind, Bratspies already has set a 2013 fundraising goal of $1 million.

“It’s really all built around awareness and engagement,” he said. “There are so many good companies around here, and we’ve been able to get a lot of people involved and get some momentum behind the American Heart Association in this area.”

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