The most powerful man in retailing

When it comes to powerful retail CEOs, the names Dave Dillon at Kroger, Frank Blake at Home Depot, Craig Jelinek at Costco and Doug McMillon at Walmart come to mind. But they’ve got nothing on Greg Penner.

Penner isn’t well known in the retail world, but he is poised to become the most influential person in the industry after being name vice chairman of Wal-Mart Stores at the retailer’s shareholders’ meeting. Penner, 44, is the son-in-law of Walmart board chairman Rob Walton, and has served on the board since 2008. His appointment as vice chairman clearly positions him to succeed Walton.

Rob Walton, the eldest son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, turns 70 this October and while he isn’t relinquishing the chairmanship just yet, Penner will serve as chairman when Walton isn’t present.  Walton first joined the board in 1978, but he didn’t become chairman until his father passed away in 1992. His younger brother Jim Walton, 65, also serves on the board and together with their sister Alice Walton they control roughly 51% of Walmart’s more than 3.2 billion shares that were outstanding as of April 4, 2014.

Walton said the appointment of Penner to the vice chairman role was consistent with the board’s commitment to long-term succession planning and noted that he was pleased with the appointment.

“Walmart has benefit from his broad expertise in strategic planning, finance and investment maters. I’m excited about Greg working closely with me, the board and the management team in guiding Walmart into the future," Walton said.

Penner brings to the role limited retail experience but a diverse background in finance and service on public company boards. He held the position of SVP of finance and strategy at Walmart.com for an unspecified period of time and moved from that role to serve as SVP and CFO of Walmart Japan from early 2002 until 2005.

In 2005, Penner became a general partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Madrone Capital Partners. By the time he joined the Walmart board in 2008, he was 38 and 11 years the junior of the company’s next youngest board member at the time, Arne Sorenson, then CFO of Marriott International.

Before joining Walmart, Penner was a general part at Peninsula Capital, an early stage venture capital fund and a financial analysts for Goldman Sachs & Co. He has also served as a member of the board of Chinese Internet company Baidu since 2004 and Hyatt Hotels since 2007. He also serves on the boards of 99Bill Corporation, a Chinese payment service providers and online dating site eHarmony.
 

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