Walmart U.S. Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Quinn plans to step down in January after more than a decade at the company. In turn, Walmart will hire former Target Chief Marketing Officer Michael Francis as a consultant and possibly to work with an ultimate successor.
Walmart spokeswoman Deisha Barnett said Mr. Quinn will retire as of Jan. 31 and Mr. Francis will join the company as a consultant starting Jan. 1. Mr. Quinn's office referred calls to Walmart corporate communications, and Mr. Francis didn't immediately return an email request for comment. The Wall Street Journal originally reported the moves earlier today.
"Walmart is a great company and a great brand, with tremendous recognition across the world," Mr. Francis said in a statement issued through Walmart. "I'm committed to building on the strength of that brand, and I couldn't be more excited about the opportunity to work with a company and a leadership team with such a passion for serving customers."
Mr. Francis announced in August that he's stepping down as CMO of Dreamworks Animation after nearly three years. He was CMO of Target for 26 years up to Oct. 2011, when he became president of JCPenney. He held that post for eight months during that retailer's tumultuous and ultimately unsuccessful efforts under former CEO Ron Johnson to wean shoppers off deep discounts in favor of everyday low prices. Mr. Francis later consulted for the Gap before moving on to Dreamworks.
Mr. Quinn, who's been CMO since 2007, is the rare chief marketer to survive two changes of corporate CEO and two changes of his immediate boss since taking the post. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon and Walmart U.S. CEO Greg Foran both have been on the job more than a year.
"Stephen has always advocated on behalf of our customers and has built a strong team that delivers our message to them in compelling ways," said spokeswoman Deisha Barnett. Among other things, he led Walmart's 2008 "Save Money. Live Better" corporate rebranding, a stronger focus on multicultural customers and digital transformation in marketing efforts, including partnerships with Facebook, YouTube and others, she said.
Asked in 2012 about the secret of his longevity, Mr. Quinn said: "I don't really think it's a secret.
"I'm fortunate to work for Walmart, because it does look at people's careers over a longer term. And it's a commitment. You don't just move to Bentonville on a whim. You've got to really buy in. And that is a big piece of it."
Indeed, recruiters say getting people to "buy in" to Northwest Arkansas can be an uphill challenge, though numerous marketers who've gone there have chosen to stay.
It's unclear how hard Walmart will push for an external candidate as opposed to an internal one. Top Walmart marketers aside from Mr. Quinn include Wanda Young, who leads digital and media efforts; Andy Murray, senior VP-creative (a former P&G sales executive who founded the shopper marketing agency Thompson Murray, which later became Saatchi & Saatchi X); Wanda Young, VP-media and digital marketing; and Brian Monahan, VP-marketing of Walmart.com, based in San Bruno, Calif. Steven Bratspies, a former marketer under Mr. Quinn, became chief merchandising officer, a role that had included oversight of marketing under former top merchandiser Duncan MacNaughton.
Walmart same-store sales rose 1.5% last quarter, the fifth quarter of growth after two years of declines. But amid faster growth by rivals that include Amazon, Costco, Aldi and dollar stores, the company in October drew down profit forecasts to invest more in store remodels and e-commerce. That hastened a slump that has seen its stock fall nearly 29% in the past year.
Mr. Quinn is on something of a Target-to-Target story arc. He was hired into Walmart by then CMO John Fleming, who had been a veteran Target merchandising executive before coming to Walmart. And he'll be leaving while working briefly alongside Mr. Francis.
Mr. Fleming, now CEO-global e-commerce of Uniqlo, left Walmart in 2010 amid disappointing results shortly after Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon succeeded Eduardo Castro-Wright in that post. The move came amid widespread discontent among suppliers and some Walmart executives about the retailer's efforts to make its stores, selections and decor more appealing to more upscale shoppers. Mr. Simon quickly engineered a reversal of those policies, increasing assortment and stuffing aisles with more displays.
In recent investor presentations, Mr. Foran has talked about again clearing display clutter from store aisles, and Mr. McMillon has talked about the need to increase Walmart's appeal to middle and upper-income consumers.
The idea of a return to more of a Target style under Mr. Francis' guidance already has some supplier representatives wary. "John Fleming didn't work, so you're going back to the well?" said one. "It's crazy."
But another person familiar with Mr. Francis' hiring noted that Walmart is familiar with him not from his Target days, but from his more recent work as a supplier marketer – specifically with Dreamworks. The entertainment company has a significant presence in Bentonville that includes a festively decorated office on the town square and extensive in-store and online marketing and merchandising initiatives with the giant retailer.