NEW YORK — After slightly less than three years as president and chief executive of Wal-Mart’s European operations, David Ferguson has retired, the company said Wednesday.

While Wal-Mart has had difficulties with its stores in Germany, the company said Ferguson voluntarily retired andthe German operations were improving. “He expressed a desire to spend more time with his grandchildren in Atlanta,” said a Wal-Mart International spokesman. He added Ferguson is 58 and his last day on the job was July 18.

Ferguson was also responsible for the Wal-Mart-owned Asda grocery chain, which performs well. Prior to heading up the European operations, Ferguson ran Wal-Mart in Canada as part of his eight-year career with the retailer, and was successful in making Wal-Mart the dominant retailer in that country.

His post in Europe will not be filled. Instead, the chief executive of the U.K. operations, Tony DeNunzio, and Kay Hefner, who heads up the German operations, will report directly to John Menzer, head of international operations. Wal-Mart declined to elaborate on why the change in the management structure was made, but it is possible that Menzer wants to be more directly involved in the German operations.

Wal-Mart has 92 supercenters in Germany. The company has experienced labor difficulties, including some union strikes at certain locations, and has had challenges understanding consumer shopping patterns.

“We are doing better in Germany,” said the spokesman. “We can’t be more specific than that,” though he added Menzer has publicly stated that he feels the German operations are on the right track.

Wal-Mart entered Germany when it bought Wertkauf, a $1.4-billion chain of 21 hypermarkets, in December 1998. The purchase also marked Wal-Mart’s entry to Europe. Wal-Mart bought Asda in July 1999.

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