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Walmart Inc. announced some leadership changes across its operations Friday along with the departure of Steve Bratspies, who's served as chief merchant of Walmart's U.S. division for more than four years. The changes will take effect Feb. 1, the start of the retailer's fiscal year.

In a memo to employees, top Walmart U.S. and Sam's Club leaders said Bratspies had decided to leave the Bentonville-based retailer after 14 years.

As chief merchandising officer, Bratspies "has been a critical part of the transformation of our business -- improving our food offerings, leaning into digital tools and fueling our growth through great merchandise -- and his work on pricing has made a meaningful difference in the lives of our customers," the memo stated. It gave no hint of what Bratspies' next career move would be, stating only that he "is ready for a new challenge."

In a separate statement, Bratspies called his years at Walmart "the experience of a lifetime."

Walmart said Scott McCall will move into Bratspies' former role. A Walmart veteran of more than 25 years, McCall currently leads the entertainment, toys and seasonal categories. "Scott is a world-class merchant who understands our customers and the ways they want to shop with us," the retailer said.

McCall will report directly to John Furner, president and chief executive of the U.S. division -- the company's largest.

In the operations side of the business, Walmart has named Dacona Smith the chief operating officer of Walmart U.S. The job has been vacant since 2018, when Judith McKenna left it to lead Walmart's international division.

Smith has held almost every role in operations leadership in nearly 30 years with Walmart, according to the memo. He is currently executive vice president and COO of Sam's Club, Walmart's members-only warehouse division. "Dacona is a widely respected leader who is known for his passion for taking care of customers and associates and his consistency of execution," the memo stated.

In addition to these moves, Walmart has created the role of executive vice president and chief product officer. Meng Chee will join the company in that position, reporting to Chief Customer Officer Janey Whiteside. The job will focus "on delivering outstanding customer experiences and leveraging today's technology to do it," the company said. Chee currently serves as digital chief experience officer at JPMorgan Chase & Co., and will start work at Walmart on Feb. 3.

Brian Yarbrough, a retail analyst with Edward Jones, said Walmart tends to announce a lot of executive changes in January as its fiscal year draws to a close, so he didn't find Friday's announcements surprising. But Yarbrough also said some of the change could be attributed to the recent resignation of Greg Foran, the former president and CEO of Walmart U.S. who stepped down in October and will leave the company Jan. 31 to head a New Zealand airline.

"Again, I'm not totally surprised" at the departure of Bratspies, Yarbrough said, noting Bratspies was promoted under Foran. "I'm not saying this is the case, but you see this a lot of times in companies when new CEOs come in or new division heads come in. You definitely tend to see some turnover, just because people were more comfortable with the person that was there before or they were more in tune with their vision and maybe the vision has changed some, and so you tend to see some changes within the higher ranks."

Yarbrough said the chief merchant is a key player at a retailer like Walmart, where 55% of the business is grocery and 45% is discretionary. "If you don't have the right product that's in demand by consumers, you can tend to struggle," he said. "It's having the right products, the right amount, and [knowing] what's selling and not. So the merchant role is definitely very important."

Yarbrough sees the chief operations officer's role as less important, however. "I think the merchandise role is more key than the operational side of things," he said.

Walmart's memo to employees mentioned other leadership changes coming in various areas of the company. Also in its U.S. operations, Kelvin Buncum is being promoted to executive vice president of Neighborhood Markets from his current role as regional general manager in north Georgia.

In merchandising, Latriece Watkins is being promoted to executive vice president of consumables. Watkins joined Walmart more than 20 years ago as an intern on the real estate team, and has worked in a variety of merchandising roles at Walmart and Sam's Club.

Business on 01/18/2020

Print Headline: Retailer shuffles business officials

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