US retail giant Walmart on Tuesday, May 28, appointed Suresh Kumar, a veteran at Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, as its new technology chief, while expanding and elevating the role.
Announcing the new recruitment on its blog, Walmart wrote that the “25-year tech executive brings deep experience in retail and eCommerce, advertising, cloud, and machine learning”.
Besides overseeing the retailer’s investments in the e-commerce business, Kumar, 54, will join Walmart on July 8, also as the retailer’s chief development officer, and report directly to CEO Doug McMillon.
Kumar will be based out of the company’s Sunnyvale, California office.
Chief Information Officer (CIO) Clay Johnson will report to Kumar, as will the technology chiefs at Walmart’s three main operating units—the US, international, and Sam’s Club.
The IIT-Madras alumnus steps into the shoes of Jeremy King, Walmart’s long-time CTO who spearheaded its tech transformation and left for Pinterest in March. King was reporting to Walmart’s head of e-commerce in the US, Marc Lore; Kumar, on the other hand, will sit directly on McMillon’s leadership team.
Also, his new role will encompass much more than King’s did.
Kumar comes at a challenging time for Walmart
In addition to heading Walmart Labs and handling the company’s customer-facing digital efforts, Kumar’s role will involve developing and managing internal systems, i.e. tools, to engage with Walmart’s 2.2 million employees and its vast supplier network.
He will also lead Walmart’s Global Business Services division. As Global CDO, he will lead the team in building systems to digitally transform Walmart’s business operations, including the use of Walmart’s data to deliver a competitive advantage, TechCrunch reported.
Most notably, the hire comes at a time when Walmart and Amazon are battling head-to-head across a number of fronts, including e-commerce, omnichannel, advertising, logistics, brick-and-mortar operations, and even the cloud.
Kumar’s appointment eminently coincides with Walmart’s undertakings to invest in its e-commerce vertical, to compete more effectively with Amazon, which became the third-largest ad platform in the US last year.
Building a digital enterprise
Readjusting its focus to advertising and artificial intelligence, Walmart is doing a lot more than just being a retailer—investing billions in research and development, acquiring tech labs and start-ups.
In an interview earlier this month, McMillon said he is looking to turn it into a “digital enterprise”.
CNBC reported earlier this month: “In many ways, Walmart is becoming more like Amazon, as Amazon becomes more like Walmart by opening stores and trying to sell more groceries. Both companies are trying to hold their own in the industry.”
“The technology of today and tomorrow enables us to serve our customers and associates in ways that weren’t previously possible. We want to take full advantage of those opportunities,” McMillon wrote in an email to employees.
Former CTO King pointed to Walmart’s use of technology, like VR headsets and machine-learning-powered robots, at this year’s SXSW, explaining that Walmart was building a tech organisation but struggles with the perception of being seen just a warehouse-like store known for low prices.
“Suresh has a unique understanding of the intersection of technology and retail, including supply chain, and has deep experience in advertising, cloud and machine learning. And, he has a track record of working in partnership with business teams to drive results,” McDillon wrote in the mail last week, justifying his faith in Kumar to solve Walmart’s image problem.
Bringing 25 years of tech expertise
After graduating as Bachelor of Technology from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, Kumar went on to earn his PhD in engineering from Princeton University. He was also a research staff member at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center.
Kumar currently works at Google as the vice president and general manager of its display and video ads, apps, and analytics. Before that, he was the corporate vice president of Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure and operations.
For 15 years prior to that, he held various portfolios at Walmart rival Amazon Inc. He was the vice president of technology for the e-commerce giant’s retail supply chain systems and led its inventory management systems.
“Walmart is one of the great success stories in how a company evolves over time to serve the changing needs of its customers, and today, it is in the midst of an exciting digital transformation,” Kumar said in a statement.
“With over 11,000 stores, a high-growth e-commerce business and more than two million associates worldwide, the potential for technology to help people at scale is unparalleled,” he added.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.
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