Lee Scott will take an unusually long one-month vacation in May from his job as chief executive of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., his first break of that length since taking over the helm of the world's largest retailer in 2000, Wal-Mart said Thursday.
Scott, 57, will leave his two deputies in charge and remain in touch while he travels with his family and possibly goes fishing, spokeswoman Mona Williams said.
"Lee has a well-qualified team in place and that enables him to take a longer than usual vacation," Williams said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
"He will stay in touch while he is away and return in time for the shareholders meeting (June 3)," Williams added.
Williams did not respond to an e-mailed question about whether Scott's long break was a sign that he may be considering leaving.
Fund manager Patricia Edwards said it was an unusual move that could be aimed at testing the waters for a change at the top, at a time when Wal-Mart faces organized critics and is trying to revive sales growth that has fallen behind the pace of smaller rivals like Target Corp.
"An absence of this length by a CEO is unusual, not just at any Fortune 500 company. This is an embattled company and so you could argue it needs the CEO's presence even more," said Edwards, a portfolio manager and analyst at Wentworth, Hauser & Violich in Seattle, which manages $6.4 billion in assets and holds about 64,000 Wal-Mart shares.
Scott's duties will be shared while he is gone by Vice Chairman Mike Duke, the head of Wal-Mart's international division, and Vice Chairman John Menzer, who runs the domestic stores division. Both are widely seen as potential future contenders for the CEO position.
The Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart promoted Duke and Menzer to vice chairman positions last year and effectively swapped their responsibilities for U.S. and international operations, a move seen as giving each man a better overall grasp of the organization.
Scott is a 25-year veteran of Wal-Mart who rose through the ranks of its formidable logistics operations.
In January 2000, he replaced President and CEO David Glass and became a member of the Wal-Mart Board of Directors in 2001.
Scott's job has changed in the past year as he has had to spend more time defending Wal-Mart against increasingly organized attacks from unions and other critics of wages, benefits and business practices of the giant retailer.