There’s a new boss at Walmart Inc.’s massive U.S. namesake chain.
The world’s largest retailer said on Thursday that John Furner, the current head of its Sam’s Club warehouse business, will take the reins of Walmart U.S. on November 1. Last year the chain took in $331.7 billion.
Furner will replace Greg Foran, who has been CEO since 2014 and engineered a striking turnaround in Walmart’s U.S. fortunes. Foran will stay on as an advisor to the company until January 31 to provide continuity during the key holiday season. After that, Foran will take on the CEO role at Air New Zealand.
Under Foran’s watch, Walmart U.S. has reported 20 consecutive quarters of comparable sales growth, driven by changes in stores that have generated store traffic during one of the chain’s most challenging times. Foran and his team had to make the case for shoppers to buy at Walmart rather than Amazon.
Early in his tenure, the straight-shooting Foran was blunt in his assessment of the state of Walmart stores, noting that half of the stores were not at an acceptable level. He has sought to make Walmart stores more inviting with moves such as using wood-like crates in the fresh food area, and lowering sightlines.
Other moves have included better inventory management and stocking procedures so that perishable items such as milk were on shelves earlier. Foran also gave store workers more updated technology to work with, such as handheld devices to use to check out customers and check inventory. He also played a central role in Walmart’s decision to raise wages.
Foran later worked with Marc Lore, who joined in 2016 as head of Walmart’s U.S. Commerce team after he sold his jet.com to the company. The acquisition allowed Walmart to equip the stores to ship orders and serve as nodes in Walmart’s delivery and pickup network.
“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,” Walmart Inc. CEO Doug Millon said in a statement.
Since 2017, Furner has run Walmart’s $57.8 billion Sam’s Club business since 2017. He made big changes to help the chain better compete against rivals like Costco Wholesale. Last year, he closed 63 clubs, as the chain calls its stores, or almost 10% of the fleet, with many locations being repurposed as e-commerce distribution hubs.
On Furner’s watch, Sam’s Club has sought to be more innovative: last year it opened a lab store in Dallas that didn’t have checkout lanes but. instead, was equipped with refrigerated cases stocked with fresh grab-and-go meals. Sam’s Club has improved its performance since he took the reins, with higher comparable sales.
While Walmart U.S. has been posting strong sales growth for some time, Furner will have to grapple with intense competition in grocery, which is responsible for 56% of the chain’s sales. The likes of Kroger, Aldi, and Dollar General can challenge its food business. He will also have to keep Walmart stores competitive at a time Amazon is building out more of a physical presence and Target has made its own big turnaround.
Furner, 45, started at Walmart as a store worker in 1993. Earlier in his career, he was the chief merchant and marketing officer at Walmart China and chief merchant at Sam’s Club before becoming CEO there.
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