Rising Star: Eduardo Castro-Wright, Wal-Mart
Meet Corporate America's next generation of leaders.
(FORTUNE Magazine) - As the public face of Wal-Mart, CEO Lee Scott has his hands full. So it can't hurt that he has one of the sharpest executives in the land watching over his 3,250 U.S. stores.
Eduardo Castro-Wright, the new CEO of Wal-Mart Stores USA, turned Wal-Mart's publicly traded Mexican subsidiary, Wal-Mex, into the country's best retailer and a jewel of Wal-Mart's $56 billion international arm.
To make that happen, Castro-Wright's team slashed prices and expenses, squeezed suppliers to get products into stores faster, and used smaller store formats (dubbed Bodega Aurrerá). He also showed a knack for public relations, defusing criticism by emphasizing jobs and low prices when merchants protested the construction of a Wal-Mex store near an archaeological site.
In 2004, his final full year at the helm, sales at Wal-Mex's 700 outlets rose 11 percent to $12.5 billion, and net income grew 36 percent. "He did a masterful job," says consultant Ken Harris.
Born in Ecuador, Castro-Wright, 50, is the second oldest of eight siblings in a tightly knit retailing family -- his grandfather founded a supermarket more than 50 years ago that became that nation's largest chain. "When you come from a large family, you learn to understand what motivates people," he says. "Later on, as a business leader, that helps." (Today he's married with three daughters.)
After earning an engineering degree at Texas A&M, Castro-Wright rebuilt RJR Nabisco's Latin American operations during the tumultuous KKR era.
At Honeywell in the late 1990s, where he ran all of Asia-Pacific, among other things, he caught the eye of Wal-Mart's brass, who spent two years courting him. Today he finds himself in the belly of the beast. Same-store sales grew 3 percent in fiscal 2005, Wal-Mart's (Research) worst performance ever.
Scott says the stores "need to get better faster," and it's Castro-Wright's job to get that done. He commissioned a survey of Wal-Mart's customers and used the results to tailor product mix to local tastes. He launched organizational changes that mirror moves he made in Mexico: allowing more employee mobility and moving divisional and regional presidents out of Bentonville, Ark., and into the markets they oversee, speeding response time.
"We're changing the entire company as we speak," he says.
Where does Castro-Wright go from here? Those in the know expect his star to keep rising. "He's on a very short list to succeed Scott," says recruiter Ric Comins, who helped bring him to Wal-Mex in 2001. And it's worth noting the name of one executive who once had Castro-Wright's job: Lee Scott.