Wal-Mart Stores Inc. promoted the chief operating officer of its Asda unit to a senior international role in a move that analysts said may be detrimental to the U.K. supermarket chain.
Judith McKenna will become executive vice president, strategy and international development at Walmart International, according to an internal e-mail sent to employees at Leeds, England-based Asda and seen by Bloomberg News.
“This is a loss to Asda, but is good news for the competition,” Dave McCarthy, an analyst at Investec in London, said by e-mail. “We regard Ms McKenna as top drawer.”
McKenna, who has spent 17 years at Asda and was considered by analysts to be a potential successor to the supermarket chain’s Chief Executive Officer Andy Clarke, will move to Wal-Mart’s Bentonville headquarters from April, the retailer said.
The executive, who oversees stores, distribution and information systems, has helped the U.K. chain double its multichannel sales in the past two years and prior to that led the integration of 147 Netto stores as finance director.
“Ms McKenna is one of a rare breed, a finance director that understands retailing and is in touch with the customer,” McCarthy said. “Wal-Mart appears to share this view too” and may be “grooming her for bigger things in the future.”
McKenna’s move comes as Asda, with more than 500 U.K. stores, faces a reviving Tesco Plc in the U.K., as well as increasing pressure from discount chains such as Aldi and Lidl. Its market share slipped to 17.3 percent in the 12 weeks ended Dec. 23 from 17.5 percent a year earlier, according to Kantar Worldpanel data released this week.
McKenna’s role within Asda will be split, with retail operations director Mark Ibbotson being promoted to the executive team as retail director. He will oversee retail, distribution and the online grocery business.
Karen Hubbard, who runs the chain’s smaller supermarket format, will add multichannel strategy and the Asda Direct non-food online unit to her remit. Chief Marketing Officer Steve Smith will also take on Asda’s financial-services business.