(Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) on Friday named Rosalind Brewer president and chief executive of its Sam’s Club warehouse retail chain, marking the first time that the world’s largest retailer will have a woman and an African-American leading one of its three business units.
Brewer, 49, will replace Brian Cornell on February 1 at the start of the company’s fiscal year, Wal-Mart said. She most recently ran Walmart U.S. operations on the East Coast.
Cornell, 52, recently told Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart that he and his wife want to move back to the Northeast to be closer to their children.
Wal-Mart also promoted two other women on Friday, naming Gisel Ruiz to the role of Walmart U.S. chief operating officer and Karenann Terrell as chief information officer.
The appointments come after Wal-Mart last year won a historic U.S. Supreme Court decision when the court rejected a nationwide class-action lawsuit brought by women who alleged that they were denied raises and promotions because of their gender. Some are regrouping to file smaller lawsuits.
Cornell’s departure is not the first time that a Sam’s Club CEO has left Wal-Mart and its small-town Arkansas way of life.
Kevin Turner started his Wal-Mart career working as an hourly store employee in 1986. He moved up the ranks and ran Sam’s Club from 2002 until 2005, when he left to become Microsoft Corp’s (MSFT.O) chief operating officer.
“Wal-Mart has the ongoing challenge of maintaining talent because their best people are very desirable to places where they can make a lot more money,” said Consumer Edge analyst Faye Landes.
Cornell, in a statement, said that he felt at home at Wal-Mart, but that after 30 years of moving around it was time to put his family first.
“My wife and I want to put down roots in the Northeast and live in the same ZIP code as our children - not just occasionally seeing them in hotels and restaurants,” he said.
Shares of Wal-Mart were up 0.7 percent at $61.04 near midday on Friday.
As president and CEO of Sam’s Club since April 2009, Cornell led growth at the chain including the launch of new private-label goods and using analytics to learn more about shoppers, an effort Wal-Mart is now expanding throughout the entire company.
“He was a very strong contributor,” said Landes, who said that Brewer comes across as “extremely capable and charismatic.”
Sam’s Club, with 610 stores and $49 billion in fiscal 2011 sales, is a smaller business than the Walmart division Brewer previously ran. It trails warehouse club leader Costco Wholesale Corp (COST.O), which has roughly 600 stores and $88.9 billion in fiscal 2011 revenue.
In her most recent role, president of the Walmart U.S. East business unit, Brewer was responsible for more than $100 billion in annual revenue, representing almost 1,600 stores and more than 500,000 employees.
Brewer joined Wal-Mart in 2006 as a regional vice president after spending years at Kimberly-Clark Corp (KMB.N). She was selected as one of the most powerful women in business by Fortune magazine in 2010 and 2011 and sits on the board of Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N). She was also the first chair of the Walmart President’s Council of Global Women Leaders.
Walmart U.S., the retailer’s largest division in terms of sales, is run by Bill Simon, who also joined the company in 2006. Walmart International, the second-largest division, is led by Doug McMillon, who previously served as CEO of Sam’s Club.
Wal-Mart also promoted Rollin Ford to chief administrative officer, overseeing areas including information systems and sourcing. He was most recently chief information officer, and will continue to report to President and Chief Executive Mike Duke.
Reporting by Jessica Wohl in Chicago; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Matthew Lewis