There is a changing of the guard at Wal-Mart Stores’ International division as the retailer confirmed early Wednesday (Jan. 17) that David Cheesewright notified the company of his plan to retire as International CEO as of Jan. 31. Judith McKenna, 51, has been promoted to CEO of International. McKenna has served as COO for Walmart U.S. since 2015.
Cheesewright will remain as a full-time executive vice president through March 31, and then work for the company, on a limited basis, on specific projects for a longer period of time. Cheesewright, 55, a well-respected retail veteran, has run the International division for the past four years, overseeing more than 6,300 stores and 777,000 employees working in 27 countries, according to the retailer’s website.
“During his 19 years with the company, David has served in a number of key leadership roles in our company. He has built a reputation as an insightful strategic thinker with a track record of delivering consistent, profitable growth. He has been instrumental in strengthening our business across the globe. He’s a passionate advocate for our people, culture and purpose around the world,” said Wal-Mart Stores CEO Doug McMillon.
The International division has performed well overall during Cheesewright’s tenure with growth in China, Mexico, Central America and Canada. Brazil and U.K. have had plenty of competitive challenges. Japan is also stagnant with the retailer and India is growing slowing with just a wholesale enterprise. Improvements have been made in the Chilean business and the retailer says very little about the Massmart investment in South Africa.
Cheesewright said in October the International division was seen as a growth engine and talent development pool for future leaders for the global retailer. At the time, Cheesewright said he was more than optimistic about the International division that generated $123.4 billion in revenue in fiscal 2017, roughly 25% of the company’s total revenue.
McKenna, also a respected global retailer, will take over with the division in good shape. In October, Cheesewright said comp sales represent 50% of growth internationally, a strong overall metric.
“Being chosen to lead Walmart International truly is an honor, and I can’t think of a more exciting time to be in this part of the business,” said McKenna. “I look forward to building upon our progress to improve the experience for our customers and associates around the world.”
McKenna, a native of Great Britain, worked with Cheesewright running Asda in the U.K. before coming to the U.S. in 2014 for a brief stint as strategist for the international division. In 2015, Walmart U.S CEO Greg Foran tapped McKenna to handle day-to-day operations for the U.S. business in need of an overhaul.
McKenna and Foran are credited with improving the U.S. division starting with cleaning up the stores, improving service and embracing technology that enhances the shopping experience, provides customer convenience as well as bolstering employee training.
McKenna has been instrumental in the retailer setting up training academies at select stores to keep introducing new operating policies and simplifying store operations.
“I’ve had the pleasure to work with Judith for many years and have seen first-hand her ability to lead strategic change, build relationships with our associates and strengthen our business. It has been inspiring to see her personal growth and the results she’s driven over the years. Her integrity, high expectations and passion for the business and our associates will ensure our continued success in International,” McMillon said.
Stewart Samuel, an analyst with IGD, praised the leadership move.
“This is a great appointment for Walmart given McKenna’s track record within the business, and her broad-based experience, including within the international division. While the move will ensure some degree of consistency of strategy, she will bring a fresh perspective. Her experience in integrating digital commerce into the physical store environment in the US will be an area she will look to draw on, given the trends in a number of Walmart’s international markets,” Samuel said.
He credited Cheesewright with delivering on performance improvements over the past four years. Guided by a consistent framework which has seen it divest non-core businesses, he helped to build a strategic partnership with JD.com in China and position the retailer as a low-cost operator.
With McKenna’s promotion, the retailer will need to backfill the COO role at Walmart U.S., and the retailer has not yet made that announcement. McKenna may also in the upcoming weeks make changes to the International leadership team.