For Walmart, Simon can bring diverse, fresh perspective

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT When Simon joined Walmart a little more than four years ago, he didn’t bring with him a lot of baggage about the way things were done in the retail industry or at Walmart. In fact, he virtually had no retail experience, which could explain why the company came up with the $4 generic idea. Now, as head of the company’s $258 billion U.S. division, you have to wonder if disruptive actions of a similar nature are in store. Clearly, Walmart didn’t make this change because it is overjoyed with the performance of its U.S. division, where weak business trends have raised concerns about the effectiveness of that broad slate of merchandising, marketing and operations initiatives collectively referred to as Project Impact.

(THE NEWS: Walmart shuffles execs: Simon becomes head of U.S. stores. For the full story, click here)

While it is not readily apparent how Walmart will modify its strategy under Simon, the one thing that’s certain is that anything is possible. Simon is a bit of a wildcard but also a student of Walmart history, keen to recharge the productivity loop. He also is someone with a diverse background capable of bringing a new perspective.

“We must remember who we are and our responsibility to the customer we serve everyday,” Simon said in a memo to Walmart associates. “Our everyday low pricing is what gives 140 million customers each week the confidence to shop our stores. We have an incredibly strong culture built upon the simple retail principles Sam Walton taught us: namely, that everyone at Walmart is a merchant. Every home office associate and every store associate should be thinking about items that our customers need and want. We will raise our focus on selling the products and assortment that our customers want at the best prices in the land.”

Simon arrived at Walmart with a diverse professional background. He previously served as SVP global business development at the Brinker International food service company, where he was responsible for the growth of the restaurant chains Chili’s, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, On the Border and Maginot’s Little Italy restaurants. He also managed the operation of all restaurants outside the United States.

Prior to Brinker, Simon worked as the secretary of the Department of Management Services for the state of Florida, a position he was appointed to in 2003 by then-governor Jeb Bush. He also has 15 years of experience working for top consumer brands, including serving as president of the Southeast region of Diageo, and several positions in marketing and development for such companies as Cadbury-Schweppes, PepsiCo and RJR-Nabisco. He also served in the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserve, retiring as a lieutenant commander in 2005, and has an MBA from the University of Connecticut.