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Wal-Mart’s Coughlin To Retire in January

Thomas Coughlin, vice chairman of Wal-Mart, will retire next month and his duties will be divvied up.

BOSTON — Thomas M. Coughlin, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s second-in-command, will retire Jan. 24, and his wide-ranging duties for much of the retailer’s domestic operations will be divided among the next generation of leadership.

Coughlin, 54, Wal-Mart’s vice chairman and a board member, has overseen Wal-Mart’s domestic store base, Sam’s Club, walmart.com and the company’s logistics, real estate development and global procurement divisions since April 2003.

“He was extremely personable, the associates really liked him,” said Smith Barney retail analyst Deborah Weinswig. “He also managed with an iron fist. He knew every detail about everything, which is one of the things that makes you successful at Wal-Mart.”

The world’s biggest retailer had a lackluster showing over the Thanksgiving holiday, and in November posted a 0.7 percent sales increase in stores open at least a year compared with projections of 2 to 4 percent. Also, Wal-Mart forecast a sales boost of as little as 1 percent for this month.

Wal-Mart did not immediately return a call for comment.

Michael T. Duke, Wal-Mart Stores USA president and chief executive officer, who came up through the company’s logistics operations, will again oversee that division along with finance and compliance. Tom Schoewe, chief financial officer, will helm walmart.com.

Wal-Mart International president and ceo John Menzer will take the reins for global procurement, a growing initiative in which the retailer works directly with overseas factories producing its goods. Tom Hyde, executive vice president of legal and corporate affairs, will manage the company’s real estate and store-planning operations.

Coughlin, who gets big laughs at shareholders’ meetings by poking fun at himself, is a prototypical Wal-Mart executive. He exudes a folksy charm, but nails the operating details. He was hospitalized last year for heart surgery.

Weinswig said Coughlin’s departure signals the readiness of two potential ceo candidates, Duke and Kevin Turner, 38, president and ceo of Sam’s Club, who has turned around that division.

“I think [Coughlin] also felt he had both Mike Duke and Kevin Turner at a level where he felt very comfortable handing over the reins,” she said.

Coughlin began his career at Macy’s West, then moved to Wal-Mart in 1978, where he made a name for himself in loss prevention. After running Wal-Mart’s domestic store base, he was considered among the front-runners for the top job, which went to Lee Scott in 2000.

Coughlin ranked sixth on WWD’s list of top-earning apparel executives, bringing home a $2.9 million bonus in 2003 in addition to $983,894 in salary.