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Walmart reveals family succession plans at shareholders meeting

By Michael Finnigan

Walmart second-gen Rob Walton has appointed son-in-law Greg Penner to vice chairman of the family business, putting him in line to gain control of the multinational corporation.

Speaking at the annual shareholders meeting in Arkansas on Friday, Walton revealed Penner, a board member since 2008, would act as chairman during periods of absence and use his expertise in technology and e-commerce to develop a range of smaller stores.

The move solidifies the Walton family’s control of Walmart but comes in the wake of a number of proposals from board members for an independent chairman.

“One of the board’s most important responsibilities is long-term succession planning, and the company spends considerable time planning for stability and continuity,” Walton said in a statement.

“I’m excited about Greg working closely with me, the board and the management team in guiding Walmart into the future.”

The Walton family currently owns 51% of the discount department store business and with over two million employees is considered the largest retailer in the world.

In spite of its size, Walmart has come under fire in recent years for their poor treatment of product suppliers and poor working conditions.

Before Walton took to the stage, long-serving employee and shareholder Charmaine Givens-Thomas introduced a proposal for the family patriarch to be voted off the board, saying she was unable to feed her family on her $23,000 annual wage.

“Something is wrong when the richest of family in America pays hundreds of thousands of workers so little that they cannot survive without public assistance,” she told reporters, adding that keeping the role in the family stifled the company’s creativity.

Walton briefly addressed protestors during his speech, saying that employees seeking a higher wage were a distraction from the good work his company does for the community. Walton also read a letter from a single mother that thanked the company for enriching her life.

Walmart’s annual shareholders meeting takes place at the Arkansas’s Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville – named after the co-founder of Walmart and uncle of Rob Walton – where guest speakers and celebrity performers entertain more than 14,000 employees.

Penner, 44, joined Walmart in 2002 where he served as senior vice president and CFO of their Japan division. He holds an MBA from Stanford University and is a keen triathlete.

“I am committed to the long-term success of Walmart,” Penner told reporters. “I look forward to contributing to a stronger Walmart in anyway possible, including how we develop new digital capabilities to add to our store offerings.”

In 2014, Walmart posted revenues of $476.1 billion – a 1.6% increase over the previous financial year. 

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