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Extra1/15/2007 12:13 PM ET

Is Wal-Mart chief's job on the line?

Growth is stagnant, and the retailer continues to draw flak on many fronts, says an analyst who thinks a shake-up could extend to CEO H. Lee Scott.

By MarketWatch

The revolving door at Wal-Mart Stores (WMT, news, msgs) is unlikely to stop any time soon, given the retailer's recent relatively lame performance. One Wall Street analyst thinks additional high-level departures are imminent and that even CEO H. Lee Scott's job may not be safe.

In a detailed research note that names names, Bear Stearns analyst Christine Augustine gives a tally card of sorts of who's job is considered safest -- there aren't many -- and who could be switched to another role or shown the door.

Augustine offers this caveat, however: "There are numerous initiatives under way, and given its size, Wal-Mart cannot be turned around in just a few quarters."

The analyst also noted that the company has a long history of "cross-pollination" in which executives are moved across divisions to diversify their experience.

A bevy of exits

Wal-Mart's holiday-sales results were mixed in November and December. Though same-store sales, the industry's key growth measure, dropped in November for the first time in more than a decade, they did exceed the company's forecast.

Shares in the Bentonville, Ark., company are basically flat over the past 12 months but are down 9% over three years and have shed 20% over the past five years. The stock has a dividend yield of 1.4%.

In recent weeks, Wal-Mart has announced a bevy of exits by top executives, including Julie Roehm, the risk-taking senior vice president of communications who had been on the job just 10 months before leaving in December.

Also out last month was Mark Goodman, Wal-Mart's executive vice president for Sam's Club marketing and membership, who left to "pursue other interests."

Larry Jackson, who was promoted in April to president and chief executive of global procurement, one of Wal-Mart's most important positions, will leave next month to spend more time with his family, the company said. Also exiting is Senior Vice President and Treasurer Jay Fitzsimmons, who is retiring.

A premium on performance?

Claire Watts, John Fleming and Pat Curran are considered the top contenders for job changes because their divisions -- on which Wal-Mart had pinned high hopes for its three-year turnaround -- were among the worst performers last year.

Watts, one of the most senior female executives at Wal-Mart, has been with the company since 1997. As the executive vice president of product development in apparel and home merchandising for the stores, Watts was in charge of the "worst-performing areas of the company," Augustine says, as her "new and high-profile strategy to introduce more fashion items has backfired."

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Augustine thinks that Fleming, the chief marketing officer, could be shifted out of marketing and back to merchandising, his strong suit. The analyst cites marketing initiatives that she says "have not worked, despite a large build-out of a new team."

Curran, another top female executive who has been at Wal-Mart for almost 24 years, is the executive vice president of store operations and has been overseeing the massive remodeling of stores. Augustine thinks that her position is at risk because the "remodeling projects are taking longer and are more disruptive to sales than expected."

As for the Scott, who has been the chief executive since 2000, Augustine identified three problem areas that could undermine his position: the lackluster performance at Wal-Mart stores and its stock, the number of initiatives "struggling" to gain traction and the hostility the company faces on many fronts.

But, she notes, Scott has support from members of the Walton family, Wal-Mart's biggest shareholders.

Augustine thinks there could be another shake-up in the three biggest slots under Scott.

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John Menzer, a vice chairman responsible for the U.S. stores -- whose results have been anything but stellar in recent months -- could get switched to another post, Augustine says. Menzer and Michael Duke, a vice chairman responsible for the international division, swapped jobs in 2005, and Augustine thinks another trade could be in the works that could also involve Eduardo Castro-Wright.

Castro-Wright, the president and chief executive of Wal-Mart's stores division, could be promoted to the international division, she says, because of weak U.S. sales. "Turnarounds take time, especially for a business of this size," the analyst adds.

But if Castro-Wright were to leave, Augustine says, that would be seen negatively because "he is generally well-regarded by investors." She also noted that he's an "agent for change" with a "distinguished record" at Wal-Mart de Mexico.

Also on the safe list was Doug McMillon, the president and chief executive of Sam's Club. Augustine thinks that he could be groomed as a future chief of Wal-Mart.

Douglas Degn's job as executive vice president of food, consumables and so-called hard-line merchandising is not at risk, either, Augustine says, but he could decide to retire.

This article was reported and written by Jennifer Waters for MarketWatch.

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