Wal-Mart's Leslie Dach, who helped reinvent company image, to leave retailer in June

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Leslie Dach, who played an influential role in reinventing the image of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in the face of mounting attacks by labour groups and other critics, is leaving the company in June after seven years.

The world’s largest retailer said Friday it has a search under way for Dach’s replacement.

Dach, 58, joined Wal-Mart in August 2006 as executive vice-president of corporate affairs, a newly created position. He came on board amid mounting anti-Wal-Mart attacks that ranged from complaints about the company’s treatment of its workers to its need to address its impact on the environment.

The company’s stock fell 20 per cent from early 2005 to an eight-year low of $42 two years later. It is now just above $73 and has gained 22 per cent in the past year.

During Dach’s tenure, the Bentonville, Ark.-based discounter launched a number of sweeping initiatives. Those included working with major suppliers to reduce packaging, and making its food healthier by embracing steps to lower salt, fats and sugars. More recent initiatives include boosting sourcing of U.S. products by $50 billion over the next decade. Wal-Mart has also launched a program to help empower female factory workers in India, Bangladesh, China and Central America.

Many of the initiatives have not only helped improve Wal-Mart’s reputation but have also been good business decisions. But Wal-Mart is still grappling with criticism over its treatment of its workers. And it’s facing allegations of bribery in its Mexico operations, which surfaced last April. Wal-Mart has launched its own internal investigation and is working with government officials in the U.S. and Mexico

In an email sent Friday to Wal-Mart employees, Mike Duke, Wal-Mart’s president and CEO, wrote, “Leslie has played a pivotal role in helping to understand the broader role Wal-Mart can play in meeting the major challenges facing society today, and social goals are now an integral part of how we run our business. He has challenged us to think big, and, under his leadership, we have broken new ground in areas like sustainability, women’s economic empowerment and hunger and nutrition.”

In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Dach, who has been commuting between Wal-Mart’s headquarters and his home in Washington, D.C., nearly every week, said that it was his decision to leave and that he approached Duke a few months ago about his intentions. He noted Duke wanted him to stay on for a few months to help with the transition. He says he’s unsure of his plans right now but is hoping to take on a similar challenge.

“There isn’t a perfect time to leave a really good job,” he said. But he added that it seemed like the right time to “close this chapter.”

“We demonstrated the ability to make a difference on issues that people care about,” he said.

Before joining Wal-Mart, Dach was vice chairman of Edelman, a major global communications firm, where he led the Washington office, the company’s research, advertising and corporate social responsibility consulting divisions and its global affairs, crisis, technology and health care practices. Dach also had been active as a strategist in Democratic politics and worked in a number of presidential campaigns. He also served in President Bill Clinton’s administration.