Succession Planning at Walmart: Insiders Only Need Apply

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Since founder Sam Walton stepped down as the company’s CEO in 1988, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) has had three CEOs, all of whom had long experience with the company before nabbing the top job. That appears to be the pattern the company will follow as it selects a successor for current CEO Mike Duke.

Duke, who is 63 years old, has not announced a retirement date, but a report at Bloomberg News cites “a person familiar with the situation” as saying that Walmart may name a successor in the next several months. The leading candidates are Walmart U.S. chief Bill Simon and international chief Doug McMillon.

While Walmart has never gone outside the company for a CEO, maybe it’s now time to reconsider that strategy. The internal candidates bear at least some responsibility for the problems that Walmart now faces: slipping U.S. sales, increasing demands from workers and labor unions for better working conditions and pay, and, of course, the bribery allegations in Mexico.

Why not look outside for someone who doesn’t carry any of that baggage and may in fact do something to fix those problems? Because that’s not the Walmart way. Walmart instead adopts a bunker mentality, denies everything, and outwaits (not ‘outwits’) its critics. It’s worked this long and there’s no reason to expect that it won’t work again.

Simon, who had a 25-year career in the U.S. Navy and Naval Reserve before turning to business, joined Walmart in 2006 and may be best suited to carry on the Walmart tradition. McMillon, who began his Walmart career in 1984 as a summer hire and is a native of Arkansas, has more Walmart blue in his blood and that may carry the day.