Wal-Mart Former Top Lawyer Quits as CEO at Vail Clinic

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s former general counsel has left a sports-medicine clinic and foundation three months after becoming chief executive officer, citing governance issues.

Tom Mars, named CEO of the Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute in October, said in an e-mail that he resigned on Jan. 15. He said the governance issues were related to the subsequent decision of one of the founding doctors to end his surgery practice. Mars also resigned from the board of the non-profit institute.

“The partners of the Clinic asked me to reconsider, but I declined,” said Mars, who said he would continue consulting with the clinic.

Before joining the Vail, Colorado-based institute, Mars was Wal-Mart’s general counsel from 2002 to 2009 and chief administrative officer until 2013. Wal-Mart is accused of bribing Mexican officials to get stores opened faster during Mars’s tenure as general counsel, and the company is the subject of two federal probes. Wal-Mart has said it’s cooperating with the government inquiries.

Mars left Wal-Mart in March, about two months after two members of Congress released e-mails from 2005 in which he informed Mike Duke, the former CEO, of allegations that executives in Mexico were corrupt.

In a statement, the clinic said Mars cited “differences in governance philosophy” as the basis of his decision to resign.

“We are sorry to see Tom leave us,” F. Lyon Steadman, the clinic’s chief operating officer and chief financial officer, said in the statement. “Although we discussed Mr. Mars extending his tenure in this role, he believed resigning was the right thing for him to do, personally and professionally.”

Wealthy Benefactors

Founded in 1988, the Steadman Philippon Research Institute studies orthopedic issues and is supported by a range of wealthy benefactors. Alice Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and sister of two Wal-Mart board members, has contributed at least $100,000 and up to $500,000 to the institute, according to its 2011 annual report and a donor list on the website. Wal-Mart board member Douglas Daft has donated up to $100,000 to the institute.

Mars declined to elaborate on the governance issues beyond saying they were related to clinic and institute founder J. Richard Steadman’s subsequent decision to end his surgery practice. Steadman announced his retirement in a Jan. 29 news release on the institute’s website. The clinic said he was unavailable for comment.

‘Great Vision’

Reached at his home, Marc Philippon, the clinic’s managing partner, said he couldn’t recall Mars citing specific governance issues before resigning.

Philippon, who said he counts a Walton among his patients, said Mars came highly recommended by Wal-Mart executives. Mars “had a great vision” for the institute, and the organization was “very happy with his services,” he said.

“I’m certainly not upset,” he said. “Maybe he’ll come back to us someday. For him right now maybe the best thing to do was to go back home.”

Mars has returned with his family to Northwest Arkansas, near Wal-Mart’s Bentonville headquarters.

“I’m back in Northwest Arkansas -- at least for the moment,” Mars said in the e-mail. “I’m considering some executive and legal opportunities, but I have no immediate plans.”

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