At what would be his last analyst meeting in October, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. president and chief executive officer H. Lee Scott allowed a rare self-congratulatory note to creep briefly into his speech.

This story first appeared in the November 24, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“Pardon me for standing a little bit taller today,” he said, citing the retailer’s renewed success. “But I will not strut because I know how quickly this world is turning today.”

After nine years leading the company that he joined almost 30 years ago, Scott, a Kansan who worked nights to pay his way through college, will now have more time for family and fishing, a passion.

Scott oversaw dramatic global expansion, the domination of U.S. Supercenters and the company’s move into e-tailing.

He took over in 2000 from then-ceo David Glass, who had led a period of huge expansion and stock price gains, but who hadn’t foreseen the backlash that landed squarely on Scott.

Union-financed groups led campaigns against the retailer, charging that workers were abused and shortchanged on benefits. News crews poked into factories where Wal-Mart goods were made and communities fought to keep the retailer out, fearing the giant would kill small stores, downtowns and create an environmental mess. Amid the distractions, the merchandising and design of U.S. stores became stale, and Wall Street fretted over the stagnant stock price.

Scott traveled worldwide to discuss Wal-Mart, meeting with everyone from Prince Charles to the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Three years ago, he assembled a U.S. team that has turned around domestic stores, and his strategy of moving into emerging markets such as China and South America is paying dividends.

“I don’t like to get into hyperbole,” said Moody’s Investors Service senior analyst Charles O’Shea, “but Lee Scott was a very, very strong ceo at Wal-Mart. He drove the international expansion, the Supercenter expansion and he knew when it was time to put the breaks on U.S. growth and focus on International. It was a good decision and, in retrospect, it’s borne out even greater.”

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