Two Journeys

Jul 11, 2024 | by

AJ Soltan, now the Store Manager of Walmart Supercenter #2821 on Sheila Lane, started working at the store as a teenager in 2007 as a cashier.

After growing up in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, AJ fled with his mother, father brother, and two sisters to a refugee camp in Tajikistan. A few years later the family moved to Uzbekistan. From there, UNICEF helped arrange immigration to the United States. AJ moved the 7,000 miles to Richmond – into Saint John’s Wood apartments to be precise – to what he calls without irony “the land of opportunity.”

He enrolled at Huguenot High School and took general curriculum and ESL courses before graduating in 2008. He also started working a few jobs – including as as a cashier in lawn and garden department at the local Walmart.

“It’s been a journey from there,” says AJ, “Servicing our customers and learning the language while going to school. Juggling different things to learn. […] The majority of my English, I learned here with the associates on the job.”

He was also learning an entirely new culture. “I remember when one time people was coming and buying whole bunch of turkeys. And as somebody who’s brand new in here, I’d be like, why everybody buying so so many turkeys? And then I got to know that it’s not only about turkey, it’s about the sides, it’s about the family, it’s about the gathering.”

In the beginning AJ did all the jobs – he was at Walmart and he also washed dishes for a while at Tripp’s restaurant. He also worked as a security guard at a hotel and drove for Uber a bit. He stayed busy.

“If I work overnight here, I would work daytime there. If I work daytime there, I would work overnight here”, he explains.

All the while AJ was steady at the Sheila Lane Walmart – he was promoted to Department Manager, Backroom Manager, Assistant Manager, and then Overnight Manager. This earned AJ time as Co-Manager at the Short Pump, Mechanicsville and Ashland locations before being promoted to Store Manager in 2019. Closing the circle, AJ – now married and with 2 children – returned to Sheila Lane in 2023 as the Store Manager, the same spot where he was the simple cashier learning the English language and American culture.

Beyond just a job, AJ has found in Walmart an ethos that has resonated with him. “Walmart has a great core value,” says Soltan, “which it starts with respect for the individual. That helped me a lot throughout the whole my career. And then striving for excellence for myself, for the team, everybody that works together with me, we always first strive for excellence. And doing all of this with integrity, that’s very important. I live with that value.”

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