Home / Companies / News /  Wal-Mart names Krish Iyer as India chief

New Delhi: Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, on Friday named Krish Iyer as the company’s president and chief executive officer (CEO) for the India region, possibly signalling renewed interest in building a supermarket business in Asia’s third largest economy after splitting with joint venture partner Bharti Enterprises Ltd.

Iyer’s appointment, effective 20 January, was announced by Scott Price, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Asia. Iyer will replace the company’s interim CEO Ramnik Narsey, who took over after Raj Jain—Wal-Mart’s India head for six years—was ousted in June this year.

Originally from Mumbai, Iyer joined Wal-Mart’s international unit as a senior vice-president in 2012. He will report to Price. Narsey, who is taking up a new role as senior vice-president at the company’s international unit, will report to David Cheesewright, the incoming president and CEO of Walmart International.

“Krish will be responsible for leading the growth and success of our India operations while also continuing to develop our future retail strategy there," Price said in a press statement. “His knowledge of our business, combined with his understanding of the Indian market and culture, make him a natural fit for this role."

Mint couldn’t reach Iyer, who was travelling, for comment on his appointment, which comes two months after Wal-Mart, branded as Walmart, and Bharti Enterprises decided on a parting of ways that ended a troubled five-year partnership.

The appointment may be a signal of renewed resolve at Wal-Mart’s Bentonville, Arkansas, head office to pick up the pieces and build a retail presence in the country, which opened its doors to foreign multi-brand retailers in September last year.

“It is an honour to be named to this role and to have the opportunity to continue to develop Walmart’s business in India," Iyer said in the statement. “Through Walmart’s investment here, including our cash and carry business, supply chain infrastructure, direct farm program and supplier development, we want to serve India and its people, and continue to make important social and environmental contributions to the country."

Before coming to Wal-Mart, Iyer spent six years with the AS Watson Group, a health, beauty and lifestyle retailer, serving as managing director in Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines; regional business development director, and regional director over store design and development for Asia and Eastern Europe.

Over the past 12 months, Wal-Mart’s operations in India have been under scrutiny, after a clutch of top executives were ousted over allegations that the company violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) of the US that prevents American companies from giving bribes. In addition, the severing of ties between Bharti and Wal-Mart was marked by allegations of mismanagement and violations of Indian investment rules.

Wal-Mart agreed to acquire Bharti’s 50% stake in the joint venture, giving the US retailer 100% holding in the company that runs 19 Best Price Modern Wholesale stores. India allows 100% foreign direct investment (FDI) in the so-called cash-and-carry stores, or wholesale units.

“Given the circumstances, our (Wal-Mart’s and Bharti’s) decision to operate independently will be beneficial to both parties...," Price had said in his October statement announcing the split. “Wal-Mart is committed to businesses that serve our members and provide good returns for our shareholders."

Although India has allowed 51% FDI in so-called multi-brand retail, or supermarket chains, no foreign retailer has ventured into the country because of political uncertainty and lack of regulatory clarity.

“Wal-Mart was largely unconvinced about certain policy clauses that restricted the company from acquiring existing assets," a retail industry expert said about Iyer’s appointment, requesting anonymity. “But they are not packing their bags up from India just yet."

Hiring of one person may not be an indicator of how things will pan out in the future, said another retail industry expert, who expects the status quo to remain until the general election next year possibly leading to greater clarity in policy. It is likely that Wal-Mart is waiting for the government to spell out its stand on issues such as foreign retailers acquiring existing assets and exercising their expertise in running the business in terms of cost cutting and so on, this person said.

An executive at a large retail firm added that the fate of Wal-Mart’s venture may eventually depend on the outcome of the ongoing investigations in the US under the FCPA.

Friday’s appointment of Iyer to oversee Wal-Mart’s India business is in line with a series of top management changes at the world’s largest retailer, including the recent elevation of Doug McMillon to succeed Mike Duke as the company’s president and CEO. The changes come at a time when the retailer is struggling to maintain momentum in sales in both America and other markets.

Wal-Mart is scaling back its expansion in key markets. It is closing about 50 underperforming stores out of hundreds it has in the major emerging markets of Brazil and China, the company said in October.

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