Wal-Mart's Asda Is Said to Hire Former Amazon Executive for U.K.

  • Rob McWilliam rejoining Asda as part-time adviser in January
  • McWilliam left Wal-Mart for Amazon in 2013 after 16-year stint

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Asda unit has appointed a former Amazon.com Inc. finance director to help it turn around its struggling U.K. business, according to people familiar with the matter.

Rob McWilliam will rejoin Asda as a part-time strategic adviser to new Chief Executive Officer Roger Burnley, said the people, who asked not to be named as the information is private. Burnley, now deputy CEO, steps up to his new role on Jan. 1. McWilliam initially will work just a couple of days a month, although that may be increased in the future, one of the people said.

An Asda spokesman declined to comment.

Before joining Amazon in 2013, McWilliam worked alongside Burnley at Asda during a 16-year stint at the U.K.’s third-biggest grocery chain. The 48-year-old’s tenure culminated in his becoming Wal-Mart’s strategy chief for Europe, the Middle East and Africa after a spell as Asda’s finance director. McWilliam joined Amazon as U.K. finance director before overseeing the launch of its Pantry service in the U.K., according to his LinkedIn profile.

McWilliam will be joining a business that’s under pressure. Asda’s long-held position as the lowest-priced mainstream U.K. grocer has been undermined by the rapid expansion of discounters Aldi and Lidl, which precipitated a three-year slump in sales. The ensuing price war dragged down Asda’s operating profit by 19 percent to 845 million pounds ($1.1 billion) last year.

McWilliam’s experience could benefit Wal-Mart, which is trying to position itself as a rival to e-commerce powerhouse Amazon. The world’s biggest retailer said this week that it’s changing its legal name to Walmart Inc. to reinforce this shift from bricks to clicks. It has acquired web merchants like Bonobos, ModCloth and Moosejaw over the past year to lure new online customers.

— With assistance by Matthew Boyle

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