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Wal-Mart's New Chief Faces Old Woes

Doug McMillon has big challenges abroad and at home

The incoming chief executive officer of Wal-Mart Stores, 47-year-old Doug McMillon, is a company man and a native of Arkansas—the retailer’s home base. By most accounts he’s well-liked, engaging, and accessible. The $470 billion empire he’ll be running come February, when Mike Duke retires, could use a good dose of all that. But it also needs a lot more: The world’s biggest retailer must contend with slowing sales in the U.S. and abroad, an underwhelming digital presence, allegations of corruption at its Mexican subsidiary, and worker protests over low wages. “Wal-Mart, and all of retail, is at a crossroads,” says Carol Spieckerman, the founder of Newmarketbuilders, a retail strategy firm. “Wal-Mart’s sheer size makes it difficult to drive growth. Most retailers are happy if they’re not going backward.”

McMillon first worked at Wal-Mart as a warehouse employee during the summer of 1984. He graduated from the University of Arkansas, and in 1990, while earning an MBA from the University of Tulsa, he returned to the retailer—and never left. After holding various merchandising positions, McMillon was named CEO of Sam’s Club in 2006. He replaced Duke as head of Wal-Mart’s international operations three years later. “He’s really been a CEO in training,” says David Schick, a Stifel Nicolaus analyst.