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The CEO of Walmart’s U.S. branch is making a sudden departure

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As it grapples with sluggish store sales, Wal-Mart said Thursday that its U.S. CEO is stepping down and is being replaced by the head of the company’s Asia operations. Bill Simon, who has been in the role since June 2010, was a top candidate to become CEO of the whole company, but lost out to Doug McMillon. Simon will be succeeded by Greg Foran, 53 years old, who is a 35-year retail veteran and joined Wal-Mart in 2011.

“Bill has been with the company for eight years and has made a decision to transition out of his role and retire from the company,” spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan. Buchanan said Simon made the decision to retire from his leadership role at the company.

In a Wal-Mart release Thursday, Simon said it “felt like the right time to move on and focus on my next opportunity.” Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar said it was Wal-Mart and Simon’s decision, noting he “is leaving on good terms.” ‘When someone else gets (the job) out of two candidates, it’s not unexpected when the other person leaves to go do something else,” said Tovar. But the move comes just weeks after Simon made fairly dire comments about consumers and the economy in a July 8 interview on CNBC.

The change at the top of Wal-Mart’s domestic business comes as many retailers face weak traffic trends and are struggling to lure consumers to spend more. Many lower-income consumers are struggling to fully recover from the financial crisis. Earlier this year, Wal-Mart’s domestic results were also hurt by poor winter weather, and same-store sales declined modestly from a year ago. Wal-Mart has pinned some of its hopes on building even more small stores, which compete with drugstores and small grocery chains.

As part of a retirement agreement reached last Friday, a Securities and Exchange filing from today shows Foran will earn a salary of $950,000. Simon will get $4.5 million as part of a retirement package, the filing shows. McMillon had “a number of conversations” with Simon about “the right time to leave,” said Tovar. Simon wanted to stay on through a transition period, which will give him time to “figure out his next challenge,” says Tovar. Read more about the story here.

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