Savvy Move from Wal-Mart: Tapping an Outsider to Fix Its Japan Operations

Last Updated Jan 16, 2008 2:17 PM EST

As I wrote in a story in Fortune last year, Wal-Mart has a fundamental problem in its management approach to Seiyu, the retailer it owns in Japan. It put an executive in charge who lacks Asia savvy and even Michael Duke, the vice chairman and head of all international operations, lacks global chops.

But now Wal-Mart has made a savvy move. It has announced that Vicente Trius, from its Brazilian operations, will take the newly created post of president and chief executive of Wal-Mart Asia. That puts him in charge of Japan, where Wal-Mart is still losing money.

Trius is obviously not an Asian expert, but his Brazilian savvy should help Wal-Mart continue its steep learning curve about Japanese employees and customers. Wal-Mart's fundamental problem has been that it tried to apply the small-town values of Bentonville, Ark., to Japan. It was not able to make the cultural leap. But Trius should be able to help the company get Japan right.