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This Walmart manager makes up to $500,000 per year after starting part-time and making $8 per hour. How the retail giant started paying

Mustafa Tovi is experiencing the highlight of a good week. Although he says he doesn’t get emotional easily, Tovi remembers folding when he got a call from Walmart.

On Father’s Day, Tovi shared a few tears with his family when they learned he was about to be promoted to the position of emerging markets manager at the company he had worked at for decades.

“It’s a dream come true,” said 45-year-old Tovi Fortunerecalling that he started as a part-time employee making $8 an hour.

Tovi remembers the exact date he applied for his first job at Walmart: July 15, 1999. When he started working at the retail company with the encouragement of his wife (who also worked there), he was offered the job the same day he applied . “I was on top of the world,” he said, noting that the rate was a lot of money for him at the time, and better than what other retailers were offering.

Tovi quickly rose through the ranks and became implementation manager just 90 days later. He oversaw projects until he became assistant manager, then co-manager, and finally store manager. He said he met people who took an interest in him, taught him and led him to new opportunities “and that’s what keeps me around,” he said. Tovi has been a store manager for 16 years and is celebrating his 25th anniversary at Walmart this year.

Now Tovi makes six figures. He says his base salary is now $168,000, up from $143,000 in 2023. And he has the potential to earn even more under Walmart’s new pay policy.

This winter, Walmart increased the base salary of managers and introduced stock plans, such as a grant for managers of up to $20,000. While Tovi made about $326,000 last year (including a $183,000 bonus), he is now expected to make $524,000 — according to Anne Hatfield, a Walmart spokesperson. That includes a potential $336,000 bonus (up to 200% of his base income if he meets his targets) and the new stock investments.

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Although the targets are not public and Hatfield says it is “too early to know how many [managers] will hit,” they say Walmart “rewards store managers for growing their businesses. As their store’s profits grow, so does their annual bonus.”

Fighting a reputation for poor wages

Walmart has been trying for years to shake its reputation for poor working conditions and wages, especially for hourly workers. America’s largest private employer has long paid many workers so little that they qualify for government assistance: A 2020 Government Accountability Office report named Walmart as the best employer of Medicaid enrollees in three states and the best employer for SNAP recipients in five states. Despite the company’s billion-dollar valuation, many Walmart employees have yet to get their share.

“Walmart started paying more, not in response to the tight labor market, but in response to competition from its fellow retailers and also because it knew it wasn’t paying enough,” journalist Charles Fishman told ABC News in 2019. That plan will serve Walmart well now that competition is becoming increasingly fierce,” the author explains The Wal-Mart Effect.

And that policy means Walmart has laid off employees, especially managers. Management cuts led to a ripple effect of more work for those who stayed, anonymous employees said Bloomberg, and legacy systems and the outbreak of COVID-19 made matters worse.

It appears that the pandemic has put some of the power in the hands of workers, forcing larger retail or fast food companies to start paying fair wages or even competitive wages in the face of workforce shortages. As conditions deteriorated in sectors where minimum wages often apply, sales rose to particularly high levels, especially in the hospitality and restaurant sectors.

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The impact lingers, as chains from Raising Cane’s to Chipotle roll out six-figure salaries. These giants are trying to address their retention rates, stay competitive with other chains, and meet increased pressure from local groups calling for workers to receive a living wage in a time of high inflation (e.g., California’s labor law minimum hourly wage of $20). It is not surprising that good pay influences loyalty. Bloomberg reports that annual turnover of Walmart managers has fallen 2% to 21% in just one year, citing data from Revelio.

When Tovi started at Walmart, he and his wife wanted to start a family, achieve a level of financial stability to reach that milestone and buy a house. Fast forward several decades, “I can say that today we have three beautiful children and we own a beautiful home in Plano, Texas,” says Tovi. The couple has invested money in various ways, including in real estate, renting out various properties.

Tovi fled his homeland in Kurdistan to Turkey for a few years before emigrating to America in 1991. Tovi says he “was given the opportunity to live the American dream.”

“I thank God every day, I thank Walmart every day because of Walmart, the reason why I have what I have today,” he says. Belief in the American Dream seems to have waned recently, especially among younger generations who are struggling to build wealth and afford housing amid the high cost of living and student loans. Although Tovi doesn’t have a college degree, he says he encourages others to get one. Regardless, there have been some victories in the labor world, as workers at UPS gained six figures thanks to the power of a collective union and a pension.

Retail workers may be ready for a long-awaited victory. However, it appears that not all Walmart employees are set up for success, as a change or flattening of pay structures last year left some entry-level workers earning less than before. Spokesman Hatfield says Walmart recently announced a new bonus program for associates, as well as a new training program to become technicians. “We have increased frontline wages by about 30% over the past five years, bringing our average hourly wage in the U.S. to almost $18,” she says. Yet that’s often not enough to make ends meet in this economy, as the Fight for $15 campaign notes; that group and others now say a $20 national minimum wage is a necessity.

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That said, Tovi says his goal is to provide opportunities for others as well. He talks about opportunities for similar career paths, noting that four employees have been promoted to manager in his building alone in the past four months.

Just as others saw potential in Tovi, he finds joy and purpose and does the same for others. He knew he had found his path when he became a manager because his passion was ‘giving back to the employees’. He fondly remembers the success of one of the people he manages, named Miranda, especially when she learned she had the opportunity to lead and become a store manager herself.

“That moment was really satisfying for me because we knew about the hard work, the time we put in and the bond we built,” he said, noting that he and Miranda spoke several times a day .

For now, Tovi is embracing his new job title and looking to thrive in that role. His next dream is to become a regional vice president and “bring the best out of myself to help others.”

He drives home and says his story is not unique. “I want the opportunity to be where I am,” he says. “With hard work and dedication, anyone can do it.”

This story originally appeared on Fortune.com

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