Fired exec says Wal-Mart couldn’t take change

/ Source: Reuters

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. may have wanted change when it hired Julie Roehm as its head of marketing communications last year, but Wednesday she said the world’s largest retailer rejected change once she arrived.

“Many companies — and Wal-Mart’s not the first — want change. They know that something needs to be done and they want to seek it,” she said, after speaking on a panel at a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York.

But just as a body can reject an organ after a transplant, so too can corporations reject the very type of change they are seeking, Roehm said.

“Sometimes, you know you need it to survive, but sometimes it just rejects,” she said.

Roehm declined to give specifics of changes she tried to push through.

Roehm was abruptly fired from Wal-Mart Dec. 4 after less than a year on the job. Her departure came amid speculation she violated company policy by accepting a costly dinner hosted by Interpublic Group of Cos.’ agency DraftFCB while choosing an advertising agency for Wal-Mart.

Roehm has denied any inappropriate activity, and she has sued the retailer, claiming breach of contract and fraud. In her complaint, Roehm claims she was told by Wal-Mart that she was being fired because she had not been “fulfilling the expectations of an officer of the company.”

In court papers, Wal-Mart admits that Roehm was informed Dec. 4 that her employment was being terminated, but it denies the other allegations.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman declined to comment.

Roehm was expected to help Wal-Mart expand its image beyond that of just a low-cost retailer and help it attract consumers who might spend money on high-priced electronics or trendy apparel.

She joined the retailer from DaimlerChrysler, where she was the director of marketing communications for the Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands and was known for pushing the limits with her ads.

In 2004, she pushed to have Chrysler’s Dodge brand sponsor a pay-for-view “Lingerie Bowl” that would feature scantily clad women playing football during halftime of the Super Bowl. But Chrysler canceled its sponsorship in the face of criticism from female customers.

Roehm said that after working in numerous cities in different companies, she was probably overly confident in thinking she could fit in to Wal-Mart’s culture and easily push through changes.

“The truth is that I was probably overly confident that I could adapt to their culture and succeed in that environment,” she said. “They were probably overly ambitious on the fact that they thought that I was the right person for them — that I was the right kind of change.”

While she did not last long at Wal-Mart, Roehm said she does not think her experience would keep others from working at the retailer.

“Anybody enamored with the idea of creating change at the world’s largest retailer will go” there, she said.

Since leaving Wal-Mart, Roehm said she has been talking to numerous companies about job opportunities, but has made no decisions yet about her next move.