BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Walmart Stores Inc., which is confronting slower growth and challenges to its reputation, is changing its leader.
Doug McMillon, head of the retailer’s international division, will succeed chief executive and president Mike Duke, 63, when he steps down on Feb. 1 after five years in those roles. McMillon, a 23-year company veteran, will become the fifth chief executive since founder Sam Walton.
The change at the top is indicative of a recent shift in strategy at the company best known for its cutthroat pricing and big box stores. McMillon, 47, is expected to infuse a youthful spirit into Walmart’s culture at a time when the company is trying to reinvent itself to attract a generation of shoppers who gravitate toward tablets and mobile devices.
The move also is a testament to the company’s continued focus on its international division. McMillon started at the company in 1984 as a summer intern, left, and came back in 1990 to work at a Walmart store before holding several executive jobs, including a three-year stint as chief executive of the Sam’s Club division.
In February 2009, he succeeded Duke to head the international division, which accounted for 29 percent of Walmart’s $466.1 billion in annual net sales in its latest fiscal year. In that role, McMillon has been expanding Walmart in Brazil and China, while trying to boost profitability by closing some stores in those countries.
‘‘This is a very natural progression,’’ said Brian Sozzi, chief executive at Belus Capital Advisors. ‘‘Walmart’s engine of growth has been international.’’
McMillon and Duke were not immediately available for comment.
McMillon faces challenges. Walmart is seeing its low-income shoppers in the United States struggling with stagnant wages and rising costs. At the same time, Walmart faces fierce competition from online competitors and dollar chains that offer convenience and lower prices.
The company also has image problems. Walmart is being pressured to further increase its oversight of factory conditions abroad following a building collapse in April in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,127 garment workers. And it continues to face criticism over its treatment of its hourly workers.
Additionally, allegations of bribery in the retailer’s Mexico operations that surfaced in April 2012 have slowed business overseas. McMillon has not been linked to that case.