Bloomberg reports that Venky Harinarayan and Anand Rajaraman, who have been running Walmart's Silicon valley-based innovation group, @Walmart Labs, are leaving the company.
“They stayed for a year and built a really strong culture,” Shernaz Daver, a spokesperson for @WalmartLabs, tells Bloomberg in an interview. “The rest of the team will stay intact.”
According to the story, "Harinarayan and Rajaraman joined Wal-Mart last year when the retailer bought their company, Kosmix, and used it as the foundation for @WalmartLabs, bringing social media expertise to advance the e-commerce business. As Wal-Mart has tried to build up its online operations it has made management changes as executives have departed."
The story also notes that Walmart "has been trying to bolster its Walmart.com online operation and has had several changes in the senior management of the business in the past year. The company generates less than 2 percent of sales from its online business, according to an estimate from Kantar."
The biggest change, of course, is that Eduardo Castro-Wright, the Wal-Mart vice chairman who once was seen as a likely Walmart CEO candidate but who ended up running the online business, left the division and is scheduled to retire next month. Castro-Wright has been implicated in the Mexican bribery scandal that has engulfed the company in recent days.
Walmart is not giving specific reasons for the departures, though it is noting that the executives are tech entrepreneurs, and that such people often leave big companies to start up new ventures.
Which seems reasonable. Though it also seems entirely possible that they left because of what I've heard described as the culture chasm between Walmart's store operations in Arkansas and its online business in California. They say that while Walmart is willing to invest in its internet operations, the company's broad culture remains store-focused, with so many legacy systems and attitudes that it can be frustrating for the internet folks.
I'm told that this could be the biggest challenge for Walmart's attempts to compete with Amazon, and that in much the same way that it found it impossible to allow a New York office focused on fashion to exist, having a San Francisco office focused on the internet creates cultural discord akin to fingernails on an Arkansas chalkboard.