Led Retailer's Successful Online Operations

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CINCINNATI (AdAge.com) -- Wal-Mart Stores today named John Fleming, head of its Walmart.com unit, as chief marketing officer in a surprisingly swift move to fill one vacancy that appears to leave a void at the high-flying online unit.
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Mr. Fleming, 46, will replace Bob Connolly, and split time between the Bisbane, Calif., headquarters of Walmart.com and Wal-Mart’s Bentonville, Ark., headquarters before eventually relocating to Bentonville.

Though Mr. Connolly will continue with Wal-Mart through the end of the year, Mr. Fleming will assume his new duties May 2 while continuing to head Walmart.com.

Web site's strong growth
Mr. Fleming's new role comes shortly after the recent departure of Carter Cast, senior vice president of marketing at Walmart.com. The Web site's strong growth over the holidays was a bright spot amid disappointing same-store sales growth for the company overall.

Mr. Cast, who did not return calls for comment, has joined eBay as chief marketing officer.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said at the time Mr. Connolly announced his retirement in March that the company would search internally and externally for a replacement, but Mr. Fleming’s appointment came relatively quickly. Representatives for Wal-Mart could not immediately be reached for comment on plans for replacing Messrs. Fleming or Cast at Walmart.com.

Shakeup of management ranks
The move comes amid a massive shakeup in the senior management at Wal-Mart Stores over the past year -– punctuated by the ouster of former No. 2 executive Thomas Coughlin from his board seat last month for alleged expense-account abuses.

The Wall Street Journal last month, citing unnamed sources, reported that Mr. Coughlin claimed questionable cash transactions were used to fund a secret intelligence campaign against union organizers. Today, The Journal reported that Jared Bowen, a Wal-Mart vice president fired after he reported Mr. Coughlin’s payments, has asked federal officials to investigate Wal-Mart for possible violations of protections for corporate whistleblowers.

Wal-Mart has denied all allegations. The company turned results of its internal investigation regarding Mr. Coughlin over to the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, with which Mr. Bowen also filed his complaint, according to The Journal.

The new guard
Executives familiar with the company said Mr. Connolly was close to Mr. Coughlin, though Mr. Connolly has not been implicated in wrongdoing in any way. The two are among five senior executives with decades of experience at the world’s largest retailer to have left Wal-Mart in the past year for various reasons, replaced mainly by a new guard of executives who gained their experience mostly elsewhere.

Mr. Fleming likewise comes from a largely non-Wal-Mart background, having spent 19 years in merchandising and other positions with Target before joining Walmart.com four and a half years ago. Mr. Connolly’s predecessor as CMO, Paul Higham, who retired in 2002 to start a consulting practice, also was a Target veteran.

“The depth of Wal-Mart’s management team allows us to tap into tremendous internal talent -– like John [Fleming] -– to ensure continuity,” the CEO of the Wal-Mart Stores division, Mike Duke, to whom Mr. Fleming will report, said in a prepared statement. Mr. Duke came to Wal-Mart 10 years ago after 23 years in the department store business, mainly with Federated Department Stores.

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