Commentary

Mac Naughton Quits Wal-Mart; CEO Foran Assumes U.S. Merchandising Oversight

Reportedly disappointed at not getting the top position in the U.S. at Wal-Mart Stores this summer, Duncan Mac Naughton has resigned as the region’s chief merchandising officer just ahead of the retailer’s Black Friday kickoff “doorbuster” events at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Thursday.

Greg Foran, the former head of the company’s operations in Asia who got the U.S. president and CEO job when Bill Simon resigned in July, immediately announced that he was eliminating the position, at least for the nonce, in an effort “to get closer to the merchandising operation,” reports TheWall Street Journal’s Shelly Banjo, who broke the story.

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“The departure allowed Mr. Foran to restructure the U.S. operation as Wal-Mart tries to fix a problem that has dogged it for years: stocking products that will attract more shoppers into its stores,” Banjo writes. “As a result … executives in charge of food, general merchandise, apparel and several other business lines will report to him directly.”

Mac Naughton, meanwhile, is going “to pursue new opportunities,” according to the memo issued by Foran. He joined the company in 2009 as chief merchandising officer for Walmart Canada and was named to the U.S. merchandising job, effective January 2011. Previously, he had held executive positions at Kraft Foods, H.E. Butt Grocery Co. and Albertson's and had served as executive vice president of merchandising and marketing at Supervalu.

“Through Duncan’s leadership, we have focused on developing our merchants while also driving stronger collaboration between marketing and merchandising. This has made us more relevant to and focused on our customers,” Foran said in the memo, according to Jon Springer in Supermarket News.

In other moves announced yesterday, Steve Bratspies, who has been the company’s EVP of general merchandise, will become EVP of food. He replaces Jack Sinclair, who will take on another role to be announced at a later date. Andy Barron, EVP of softlines, will assume responsibilities for general merchandise.

Wal-Mart broke a seven-quarter losing streak in the third quarter of 2014, posting a 0.5% increase in revenue at stores open at least a year, Lee Hogan reports in Arkansas Business.

“If you look at some of the recent talent selections in the C-suite, it’s apparent that Wal-Mart is looking for something different, casting a broader net to gather people with varying experiences,”  Allan Ellstrand, an expert in corporate leadership and professor at the University of Arkansas, tells Kim Souza on The City Wire.

“He adds that if companies always do things the same way with the same people, it’s hard to get different results,” Souza writes. “[Wal-Mart CEO Doug] McMillon and Foran have each said they are after higher sales and better performing supercenters.”

“Research shows that bringing in outside talent can be more contentious but, overall, companies that do it often get richer, better and more compelling results,” Ellstrand said.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Mac Naughton was musing with reporters on a conference call about the changing nature of the traditional big day for retail shopping.

“Black Friday is no longer an event for customers who wake up at the crack of dawn to get good deals,” he said, adding that the event has really turned into ‘Black Friday week’ at several retailers, as Jillian Berman reported on Huffington Post.

Sales in November and December will account for about 19% of annual revenue, according to the the National Retail Federation, as Bloomberg’s Kevin Orland points out, with overall spending projected to rise 4.1% against a 3.1% gain last year.

“This year, 140 million Americans are likely to shop in stores or online during Thanksgiving weekend,” according to the NRF. “Nearly 8 in 10 Millennials ages 18-24 plan to shop over the weekend, the highest of any age group.”

Perhaps that’s because Millennials consider “goals related to extrinsic values (money, image, fame) more important and those related to intrinsic values (self-acceptance, affiliation, community) less important,” as one academic study put it earlier this year.

Or perhaps it’s because they recover more quickly from feasting than the rest of us. In either event, enjoy yours.

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