Another day, another critical executive departure at a mass retail giant.
Walmart Inc. on Thursday announced the appointment effective Nov. 1 of John Furner as president and chief executive officer of Walmart U.S., succeeding Greg Foran, who held the role for five years. Furner, 45, in 2017 succeeded Roz Brewer as head of Sam’s Club. The retail giant will announce Furner’s replacement at a later date.
Retail analysts called Foran’s departure a big blow to Walmart.
“While we’ve been highly impressed with Mr. Furner’s work at Sam’s Club and his ability to embrace technology and implement change for the benefit of the customers and members, he does admittedly have big shoes to fill,” said Jefferies equity analyst Christopher Mandeville. “We can’t help but expect the [stock] market to react negatively to today’s news.”
Target Corp. on Wednesday similarly tried to make the best of a difficult situation, burying the news that its chief merchant, Mark Tritton, had resigned to join competitor Bed Bath & Beyond. The Minneapolis-based retailer shifted the attention to the news that Michael Fiddelke was named executive vice president and chief financial officer, effective Nov. 1, succeeding its incumbent, Kathy Smith, whose retirement was revealed in January.
Foran has largely been given credit for revitalizing Walmart’s U.S. business, so much so, that he’s often cited as being responsible for the turnaround more than Walmart ceo Doug McMillon. Reports about tensions between Foran and president and ceo of Walmart U.S. e-commerce Marc Lore, have the two leaders vying for McMillon’s attention.
Furner and McMillon have similar backgrounds; both rose through the ranks of the company, and while Walmart has tried to put its “Good old boy” culture behind it, Furner, who is said to be a close friend of McMillon, would naturally feel comfortable with him.
“John knows our business well, having held many different jobs in the company over more than 25 years, and he is helping transform it for the future,” McMillon said. “He has the experience and judgment to know what we should continue doing and what we should change. He embraces technology and new ways of working.”
“It is bittersweet to leave Walmart, but this incredible opportunity to lead an iconic Kiwi brand was one I could not pass up, and I’m looking forward to this next chapter,” said Foran of his upcoming role as ceo of Air New Zealand. He’ll remain at Walmart through Jan. 31 to ensure a smooth transition.
McMillon acknowledged Foran’s contributions, saying he “built a strong plan from the beginning to strengthen the U.S. business – a plan that made significant choices around investing in wages and benefits for associates and investing in price for customers.”
Some of those initiatives were unpopular with Wall Street, however, Foran was vindicated. “The results have been impressive,” McMillon said. “Every quarter he led Walmart U.S., it has had positive comps. Greg’s ability to innovate, whether it’s making our stores a competitive advantage in an omnichannel environment or equipping associates with next generation technology and training, has helped position us for the future.
“Before leading us to a stronger position in the U.S., [Foran] did the same thing in China,” McMillon said. Which begs the question of what will become of other Walmart talent.
“It means that Greg Foran didn’t believe his ascent at Walmart is likely,” said Carol Spieckerman, president of Spieckerman retial. “The fact that Judith McKenna, [president and ceo of Walmart International] wasn’t chosen as his successor is interesting as well. She has a unique handle on the international business, but will she want to stay there forever?”