Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, said yesterday that it fired three executives and four other employees for violating company policy.
Jim H. Haworth, executive vice president of operations for the Wal-Mart Stores division, was fired, according to a report yesterday in the Benton County Daily Record, citing three people it didn't name. Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams declined to provide the employees' names or say what rules were broken.
Williams said the firings weren't related to litigation, criminal matters or the retirement next month of Vice Chairman Tom Coughlin.
"They failed to follow established company rules and were terminated," Williams said.
The terminations come as the Bentonville, Ark.-based company struggles with sluggish holiday sales, community opposition to the opening of stores in some cities, and a major sexual-discrimination class action lawsuit. Ken Reese, director of operations for Wal-Mart's Tire & Lube Express and Terry Pharr, a senior vice president, also were dismissed, said the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal Web site, citing a person it didn't name.
"This suggests the company is being vigilant in trying to walk the straight and narrow, and it doesn't matter where you stand in the chain of command," said Don Gher, who helps manage about $575 million at Coldstream Capital Management in Bellevue, Wash., including Wal-Mart shares. "They definitely are trying to improve their image, because they have been a target company, a company that's been attracting a lot of bad press."
A message left at Wal-Mart for Haworth's assistant wasn't returned and an attempt to reach Reese and Pharr was directed to a company spokesman.
Haworth oversaw operations of the company's 1,363 discount stores, 1,672 Supercenters and 76 Neighborhood Market grocery stores. He was among about 12 officers who addressed analysts and shareholders at the annual meeting in June.
Haworth was named to the position in July 2001. Previously he served as executive vice president of operations for Sam's Club. He joined Wal-Mart in 1984 as an assistant manager.
"This development is of concern to us," A.G. Edwards analyst Robert Buchanan wrote in a report. Haworth "was always responsive to our issues/concerns during his tenure as head of store operations at Wal-Mart's key operating segment."
Wal-Mart's average monthly sales gains have slowed to an average of 1.6 percent in the past four months after increases of 4.6 percent in the first seven months of the year. Holiday sales are expected to rise 1 percent to 3 percent, compared with a 4.3 percent gain last year.