Walmart’s Duncan Mac Naughton Departs

By Meg Major and Bridget Goldschmidt

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Chief Merchandising Officer Duncan Mac Naughton is leaving the mega-retailer amid a shakeup of its management structure and a realignment of its strategy to focus more on ecommerce and smaller retail formats.

After joining the Bentonville, Ark.-based company in 2009 as chief merchandising officer for Walmart Canada, the former Supervalu executive was named EVP of merchandising for Walmart U.S. in October 2010 and was appointed to his current position in January 2011.

According to a company memo, Greg Foran, who leads Walmart's U.S. operations, said no replacement will be hired at this time for the vacant chief merchandising post. Foran will instead have the company's related merchandising executives report directly to him.

"Given Walmart's struggles to recapture its food retailing dominance after six straight quarters of flat or declining same-store sales, I am somewhat surprised -- but hardly shocked -- by the news of Duncan's departure, which was widely speculated in recent weeks," a trade observer who requested anonymity told Progressive Grocer.

Further, on the heels of an "urgent agenda" memo issued to its U.S. store managers last month, laying out guidelines to boost sales of refrigerated and fresh foods, per a leaked memo to The New York Times, the source said he was more surprised by the timing of Mac Naughton's departure in the thick of the all-important holiday selling season, rather than by the overall decision to part ways.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, who took the helm of the chain's U.S. operations earlier this year, has aggressively refocused on small-format stores and improved customer service. McMillon also reorganized the chain's management structure with a slate of 13 U.S. merchandising and operations executives in June. The measures appear to be trending more favorably for Walmart, which earlier this month posted its first U.S. same-store sales gain after the six-quarter slide.

While Mac Naughton's next move remains to be seen, another observer believes he'll have no trouble landing a new job. "He's a talented, capable retail executive, and would be an asset to any organization. He should bid Walmart good riddance and move on," noted the PG source, who also requested anonymity, adding, however, that Mac Naughton most likely has an "ironclad" noncompete contract that will prevent him from securing employment with another retail food competitor "any time soon, if ever –- which is a shame," in light of his extensive food industry background, which began with 13 years at Kraft Foods Inc., where he worked in category sales management and planning, sales strategy, brand and product development, trade planning, and strategic food marketing and business planning.

Mac Naughton then moved on to San Antonio-based H-E-B in 1998 as group VP, grocery merchandising and own brands, later becoming group VP, grocery merchandising. In 2004, he joined Boise, Idaho-based New Albertson's Inc. as SVP for merchandising, rising to EVP for merchandising and marketing. He subsequently became EVP of marketing & merchandising of Minneapolis-based Supervalu Inc. (then New Albertson's parent company) in 2006.

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