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Former Walmart execs to fuel growth at Reliance Retail

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has hired former operating officer of Walmart China, Rob Cissel, as chief executive officer and vice-president, store operations, Shawn Gray, as chief operating officer (COO), said a senior executive of the company seeking anonymity. The move comes in the backdrop of the company's intension to aggressively expand the chain's hypermarkets.

"We plan to launch 20-25 hypermarkets every year and these expats were brought in to supervise their growth. We expect their experience with Walmart will come handy here," he said.

Walmart, the world's largest retailer, runs 8,500 stores in 15 countries. It has large stores called Walmart Supercenters, wholesale stores called Sam's Club, Walmart Discount stores among others.

Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Retail plans to launch, at least, three hypermarkets in Borivali, Bandra Kurla Complex and one in Pune in the next three months, the executive said. Started in 2006, Reliance Retail runs over 1,000 stores in the country. Of this, over half are supermarkets called Reliance Fresh which sell food and grocery products. It runs around 16-17 hypermarkets under Reliance Mart.

"We are also launching Reliance Supers (supermarkets) in smaller cities," he said.

Gwyn Sundhagul, the current chief executive of Reliance Retail, may not join other businesses of Reliance Retail as reported by papers today, he said.

"When Sundhagul was brought from Tesco, Thailand, his mandate was to streamline value formats and grow them. Since then, things have picked up and doing very well. In fact, many of the stores are Ebitda (earnings before interests, taxes, depreciation and ammortisation) positive. Now we plan to focus on hypermarkets and current hiring fits well with our strategy," he said.

Rob Cissel, the CEO designate, said, "It is very exciting to have an opportunity to be a part of the India retail story. I have been very impressed with the operations at Reliance Retail and am confident the company has the right foundation to take a giant leap and realise its true potential. The large potential of the market and commitment of the management at Reliance presents the perfect platform for the next wave of growth of the company.”

However, the chain's move to bring in former Walmart executives has surprised many retail executives. "I could not understand why so many changes take place in that chain where things are yet to stabilise. When top leadership changes so frequently, people may get demoralized," said a former executive of Reliance Retail who now works with a food and grocery chain.

But the Reliance Retail executive quoted earlier said the contract of expats, including that of the current CEO Sundhagul, was only for two years.

"Direction comes from the top and it is still the same. Whether top executives change or not, it will be there," he said.

"Currently, we are preparing for an aggressive expansion with large investment plans based on the strong foundation built so far," said another executive. He added the company was strengthening the leadership team with the addition of experienced global talent to propel Reliance Retail to the next level.

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