Executive Shifts Muddy Water on Wal-Mart's Direction

BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Stores here unveiled a reshuffling of top-level management yesterday, leaving observers to ponder whether the changes signal an effort to continue to go after more affluent consumers or to revert back to a more aggressive pricing position.

BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Stores here unveiled a reshuffling of top-level management yesterday, leaving observers to ponder whether the changes signal an effort to continue to go after more affluent consumers or to revert back to a more aggressive pricing position. Observers said they expect Wal-Mart to possibly shed more light on its long-term direction next week when it meets with vendors in Kansas City, Mo. Wal-Mart positioned the changes as part of its ongoing effort to become more relevant to diverse consumer segments. The biggest change involved the move of John Fleming from executive vice president and chief marketing officer to executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, with oversight for grocery, entertainment, apparel and home. The company also said Doug Degn, executive vice president of food, consumables and hardlines, has decided to retire, although he plans to stay on for several months to help transition the new merchandising organization. In other changes, Stephen Quinn, senior vice president of marketing, was named to succeed Fleming as executive vice president and chief marketing officer; and Claire Watts, executive vice president of merchandising, will retain oversight of apparel merchandising but will give up oversight of home merchandising. Eduardo Castro-Wright, president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart Stores U.S., said the changes are part of a three-year plan to increase sales and profitability by becoming more relevant to the chain's diverse customer segments, with a focus this year on initiatives dealing with merchandise assortments and marketing execution. -- Elliot Zwiebach