Recently departed Sam’s Club president and CEO Brian Cornell is a little like legendary Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown in that both walked away from their professions at the height of their careers. However, unlike Brown who gave up football for good after his best season ever, no one is expecting Cornell to stay retired.
At only 52, Cornell is in the prime of his executive leadership years, and he’s coming out of a couple of really solid years at Sam’s Club. So while news of his departure last month was unexpected and surprising, no one will be surprised in the months ahead if his name shows up near the top of an org chart of a major corporation based in the Northeast. The first company to pop up on the list of potential suitors is PepsiCo where Cornell spent 13 years prior to Sam’s and his CEO stint at Michael’s. Cornell knows PepsiCo wel,l and the company knows him too as former PepsiCo chairman and CEO Steven Reinemund has served on the Walmart board since 2010.
Last week, Bloomberg reported that Cornell was in talks with PepsiCo to join the Purchase, N.Y.-based company in a senior leadership capacity. Such a move is conceivable as the press release announcing Cornell’s departure from Sam’s never said he was retiring, only that he desired to relocate to the Northeast for family reasons.
“After 30 years of asking my family to follow me all around the globe, it is time to put them first,” Cornell said. “My wife and I want to put down roots in the Northeast and live in the same ZIP code as our children – not just occasionally seeing them in hotels and restaurants.”
They were probably nice hotels and restaurants, but still not the same as being home. And if Cornell was in line to eventually succeed Doug McMillon as president and CEO of Walmart International he would have been in for several years of extensive international travel overseeing Walmart’s expanding global operations. Whether that was in the cards for Cornell had he stayed at Sam’s is unclear, but it was the path that McMillon took when he moved from being CEO of Sam’s to CEO of international. The assumption of those with familiarity with Walmart’s senior leadership structure is that McMillon will eventually be given additional responsibilities creating the need for new leadership in the international area, which will now need to be satisfied by someone willing to live out of a suitcase for three years.