Both Wal-Mart and Carrefour have new leaders as the global economic crisis bites ever harder. Chloe Smith and Julia Taylor ask what they will bring to the party

At the Wal-Mart shareholders' conference in June, Mike Duke, chief of international operations, looked positively presidential. Staff from all over the world waved flags in the Bud Walton stadium, near Bentonville, Arkansas, as Duke listed the achievements the company had made over the year.

"Don't that make ya feel proud?" he boasted about Wal-Mart's $4 charge for prescriptions - widely praised for bringing the cost of medicines down across the US. The boast certainly had the desired effect. By the end of the speech, all the staff - from checkout workers to directors - were on their feet cheering.

Next February that presidential aura will be confirmed, following Wal-Mart's announcement that Duke is to succeed the retiring Lee Scott, who has been CEO and president for the past nine years.

It has been quite a couple of weeks for CEO appointments at the leading global retailers. The news of Duke's promotion comes just days after Carrefour shareholders toppled José Luis Duran, chief executive of three years, and named Nestlé's Lars Olofsson as his replacement. So what do these changes at the top mean for the top two global retail giants?

Scott is leaving in the knowledge Wal-Mart became not only the world's largest retailer under his leadership but is now the world's largest private company.

When Wal-Mart made its announcement last week, emphasis was placed on the fact Duke was an internal candidate who had proved himself at Wal-Mart and understood the culture. Duke's speech to adoring staff at the conference proved he was Wal-Mart through and through, reeling off the Wal-Mart catchphrases - "saving people money so they can live better" and "serving the under-served" .

Duke has held a variety of executive roles since he joined Wal-Mart in 1995, overseeing logisitics and distribution before latterly becoming head of Wal-Mart International, where he expanded the company's presence in the emerging markets of China and Brazil, and also presided over Asda when Wal-Mart bought the business in 2000.

Like another president due to begin work in the new year, Duke has a financial crisis to deal with. But like Asda, with its value message, Wal-Mart is faring well in the US in the face of recession, with third-quarter sales up 7.5% on last year to $97.6bn.

IGD business analyst Jamie Trust believes the international side of the business will continue to grow well. "Under Duke, WMI has grown into a $90bn-a-year business and we expect sales to break $100bn in 2009. Wal-Mart will hope Duke's strong record of cost cutting, in the US and internationally, will put it in a good position to move forward."

Asda CEO Andy Bond expects Duke to provide continuity of leadership. "Mike and I have developed a successful working relationship ," he says. "With his strong understanding of the business and his appreciation for the complex global environment, there's no doubt that Mike will add tremendous value and will provide great continuity for all of us here in the UK."

The situation at Carrefour is somewhat different. The succession was arranged on the back of poor quarterly results, which fell short of analysts' expectations. Overall sales were up 3.5% in Q3, but in France, its hypermarkets have struggled against both smaller supermarkets (including discounters) for grocery sales and specialist retailers for non-food. Sales (excluding petrol) fell by 0.4% in the period.

Rumours of Duran's exit had been circulating for the past six months. It was thought he was not tackling the French retailer's problems - which included a dramatic share price slump this year - as quickly as anticipated.
Was his dismissal fair? "I think generally Duran was doing an OK job," says Christopher Hogbin of City retail analyst Sanford Bernstein. "He was doing it slower than the board wanted, but I don't think there are quick fixes for Carre­four."

Sales-driven mindset
Duran had been in the role at Carrefour since 2005, but this year its share price plummeted by more than a third. "Duran stabilised the company and at least brought a sales-driven mindset," says JP Morgan analyst Jaime Vazquez.

But Vazquez is highly critical of Carrefour, claiming it is "uncompetitive and inefficient in France, Italy and Belgium, while in Spain it is losing leadership".

"Under him the company failed to address the two structural threats the company faces," he adds. "On the food side the growth and increasing competitiveness of hard discounters, and on the non-food side the growth of specialists."

The move of his replacement, meanwhile, from supplier to retailer, was one that surprised many in the industry. Olofsson has spent much of his working life - 32 years - with Nestlé, where he has been executive vice president since 2001 and responsible for strategic business units, marketing and sales since 2005. Prior to those roles Olofsson, a Swede, was chief executive of one of Nestlé's subsidiaries in France in 1992, and in 1997, was appointed chairman and chief executive of Nestlé France.

Analysts, however, were not as surprised as others in the industry to hear of Olofsson's move to Carrefour, mainly because there are so few retailers of Carrefour's size in France, and thus, few French-speaking retail chief executives.

Hogbin believes there are "not really very many people qualified enough to take on such a role" within the French retail sector.

"It's not unusual. We've seen the same thing happen with Marc Bolland at Morrisons, and, to an extent, with Justin King at Sainsbury's. The issue with Carrefour is that it needs someone with experience in France, and Olofsson speaks French and English. His experience running Nestlé stands him in good stead."

Carrefour has recently streamlined its senior management structure in a bid to speed up top-level decision making. So how will Olofsson fair? "The big advantage he has is that he is going to be included in the board of directors, so will have more decision-making powers," Hogbin says.

However, with France's economy suffering much like every other country in Europe, quick fixes may prove difficult. "Finding the answers may be easy - executing them may be a bit harder," he adds.

JP Morgan is more upbeat about Carrefour's future. "We view the change as good news for the medium and long term as a new person should be more capable of bringing the drastic changes the company needs," says Vazquez.

As for Wal-Mart, Bond is not ­expecting radical changes. Nevertheless, when Duke takes to the stage in Bentonville again next June, he will be hoping that presidential sheen is still wearing well.
1. Wal-Mart

Sales of $388bn in 2007. Third-quarter sales up 7.5% to $97.6bn. Biggest challenge: recession.

2. Carrefour

Sales of €77.9bn in 2007. Third- quarter sales up 2.9%. Biggest challenge: the discounters.

3. Tesco

£58.1bn in group sales in 2007. Half-yearly sales up 3.7%. Biggest challenge: discounters

4. Metro

Sales of €64bn in 2007. Nine-month sales up 7.1%. Biggest challenge: sorting Real hypermarkets.

5. Ahold

Annual turnover of €28.1bn in 2007. Third-quarter profit up 11%. Biggest challenge: growth after selling off large chunks of its business.