Commentary

McMillon: A 'Sam's Choice' Pick To Run Walmart

Wal-Mart Stores yesterday picked one of its own, 47-year-old Doug McMillon to succeed Mike Duke as president and CEO next February. McMillon, who was born in Jonesboro, Ark. — about five hours from HQ in Bentonville as the semi-trailer rides — started out as a summer associate at a Walmart distribution center in 1984 and joined the company full time in Tulsa, Okla., in 1990 while he was earning an MBA at the University of Tulsa.

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McMillon is currently running the retailer’s international operations. He has been known to trace his long history in the thick of things back to when he was buying fishing tackle and Sam Walton himself “placed a yellow Post-it Note on his desk asking Mr. McMillon to match the price of a fishing line that was selling for less at rival Kmart stores,” as Shelly Banjo and Ben Fox Rubin relay the story in the Wall Street Journal.

They also point out that he “inherits a company that is struggling with sluggish sales in the U.S. and abroad, a federal investigation into bribery allegations at its foreign operations and worker protests over pay.”

Hayzlett Group co-founder and Bloomberg contributing editor Jeff Hayzlett pooh-poohs those who read any sense of panic in the announcement as the holiday shopping season kicks into fifth gear. In naming the head of Walmart International to run the company, he says the board is showing it “feels comfortable; feels confident” about it despite the well-publicized bribery allegations in Mexico and what CFO Charles Holley recently termed “cautious” spending globally. 

“The timing of the announcement … just four days before Black Friday, was dictated by the schedule of company board meetings — the November meeting is closest to the company’s new fiscal year, which begins Feb. 1,” David Tovar, Walmart’s VP for corporate communications, tells the New York Times’ Elizabeth A. Harris. “This was solely his decision, a personal decision Mike made to retire at this point.” 

Indeed, the overriding message to take away, Hayzlett tells anchor Deirdre Bolton on Bloomberg Television’s “In The Loop,” is: “We’re okay. We’re Walmart. We know what we’re doing.”

It certainly knows what it’s getting.

“Doug is uniquely positioned to lead our growing global company and to serve the changing customer, while remaining true to our culture and values,” Rob Walton, son of Sam and chairman of Walmart’s board of directors, said in an effusive announcement. “He has broad experience — with successful senior leadership roles in all of Walmart’s business segments — and a deep understanding of the economic, social and technological trends shaping our world.” 

Prior to the international appointment in 2009, McMillon spent much of his time in merchandising in Walmart’s U.S. division, reportUSA Today’s Alistair Barr and Kevin McCoy, “giving him experience with food, apparel and general goods. From 2006 to February 2009, he ran Sam's Club.” 

Chairman Walton also praised outgoing CEO Mike Duke, who is retiring after 18 years at the company and four at the helm, but will remain as an advisor to McMillon and as chairman of the executive committee of the board of directors. 

McMillon’s top rival for the job, according to numerous accounts, was Bill Simon, CEO of Walmart U.S. He joined the company in 2006 from Brinker International, and also has been president of Diageo Southeast and president of North America Ready to Drink following senior sales and marketing positions with Cadbury-Schweppes, PepsiCo and RJR-Nabisco.

“It looks like they took an insider over an outsider,” Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru tells the Times’ Harris. “Bill Simon joined more recently, he had more of a restaurant background. Doug McMillon is more of a company lifer, so to speak. He’s been at the company a long, long time.”

On Quartz, John McDuling observes that McMillon  —“a white, heartland-educated American male” just like his four predecessors as CEO — would have been the perfect choice to run the company in, say, 1993. Twenty years ago, “the company’s international operations were still embryonic, the Internet didn’t pose much of a threat to brick-and-mortar retailers, and Walmart was being feted rather than criticized,” he writes. “But today a fresh set of eyes might have been better.”

Still and all, “McMillon has done just about every job there is [at Wal-Mart],” Telsey Advisory Group advisor Joe Feldman tells Reuter’s Aditi Shrivastava and Phil Wahba. “He's a good fit culturally and, as a young 47 year old, there's an opportunity to be there for a long time.” 

McMillon once told an interviewer, “I learned more in the first six months at Walmart than I learned in 5½ years of post-secondary education,” USA Today’s Barr and McCoy relate. One can only imagine the lessons that lay ahead as Walmart sallies forth in the golden age of showrooming.

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