The chief executive of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s Japanese operations has stepped down after 17 months in the position, as the world's largest retailer contends with a notoriously difficult market.
Toru Noda, who was appointed president and CEO of Wal-Mart Japan Holdings in January 2010, has "left the company for personal reasons," the Japanese unit said Monday. Noda didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
The timing of Noda's resignation comes as a surprise, particularly given that U.S.-based Wal-Mart had just turned a corner in Japan after reporting losses for seven-straight years. Wal-Mart entered the Japanese market nine years ago and now operates 414 stores there, representing the company's biggest investment in Asia.
After the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Noda slept on a couch in Wal-Mart Japan's offices in Tokyo for two days as he scrambled to route supplies to stricken areas in northern Japan, account for all of the retailer's employees in the country, and make sure that the company's stores in the Tokyo region were stocked.
"Japan has lost a lot of lives. It is a huge, huge issue for a long time to come," Noda said during an interview with The Wall Street Journal immediately after the earthquake. "This event has definitely brought people closer together in Japan."
Wal-Mart has been on the hunt for acquisitions in Japan as it aims to beef up its international operations, the fastest-growing arm of its business.
The retailer has worked for nearly a decade to figure out the right formula to woo Japan's finicky shoppers. Wal-Mart entered the crowded Japanese retail sector in 2002 by buying a 6.1% stake in Seiyu Ltd., a struggling retailer with tired, out-of-date store formats.
Despite Wal-Mart's efforts to bring its "everyday low price" mantra to Japan by offering discounted items, Seiyu reported losses for seven straight years.
Wal-Mart spent 100 billion yen -- or about $1.2 billion at the yen's current high rate -- to increase its stake in Seiyu to 95.1% in December 2007. In June 2008, the Japanese retailer became a wholly owned Wal-Mart subsidiary.
Noda will be succeeded by Steve Dacus, chief operating officer of Wal-Mart Japan. Dacus joined Wal-Mart in 2007 as senior vice president of international market support, Wal-Mart International.
He moved to Wal-Mart's U.S. Sam's Club unit in 2009, serving as general-merchandise manager for electronics, entertainment and office products. Dacus is half-Japanese and has lived and worked in the country for more than 25 years, according to a Wal-Mart spokesman.
Prior to joining Wal- Mart, Dacus was senior vice president of Fast Retailing Co.
Separately Monday, Wal-Mart said it completed its $2.4 billion acquisition of a 51% stake in South African retailer Massmart Holdings Ltd., marking the U.S. retailer's entry into Africa.
Mariko Sanchanta is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, where this story originally appeared. Write to her here.
Devon Maylie and Miguel Bustillo contributed to this article.