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Changing Of The Guard At Walmart U.S.

News of Bill Simon’s departure as president/CEO of Walmart’s core U.S. business, just weeks after pressing the flesh at the company’s annual shareholders meeting, came as no surprise to analysts.

In their eyes, the writing was already on the wall in February when Simon was passed over for the top corporate slot, which was given to the younger and more digitally attuned Doug McMillon.

“It’s no shock Bill Simon is leaving after not getting the lead role when Mike Duke stepped down as Walmart CEO last year,” noted Sandy Skrovan, U.S. research director at Planet Retail, a retail consultancy. In his view, Simon performed as well as could be expected given the challenging recessionary environment, but lacked McMillon’s international experience.

David Strasser, a retail analyst at Janney Capital Markets, concurred. “There will be speculation that Mr. Simon was forced out, which we do not believe is the case,” he observed in a research note. “There have been some struggles at the U.S. division, but we believe that has been as much a macro issue as anything else.”

Strasser also dismissed “rampant speculation” that Simon may be headed to Target, citing a non-compete clause that sidelines him from retail for two years.

As for Simon’s successor, Greg Foran, who previously ran Walmart’s China and Asia operations, Strasser called his lack of experience running either a large or U.S.-based business a legitimate concern. But he nonetheless described Foran as “a strong leader with retail expertise to take control of this U.S. business.”

Planet Retail’s Skrovan also lauded Foran’s solid background in grocery and general merchandise, Walmart’s wheelhouse, and pointed to a prior non-U.S. executive — Eduardo Castro-Wright — who was also given the domestic helm.

“This move demonstrates that Walmart will not rest on its laurels and is definitely open to bringing in fresh blood and new thinking,” Skrovan said — “something we think will serve Walmart U.S. well as it struggles to turn around lackluster performance and jump-start stagnant sales growth.”