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Wal-Mart corporate affairs leader Dach to leave in June

A taxi driver waits outside a Wal-Mart store in Mexico City January 11, 2013. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
A taxi driver waits outside a Wal-Mart store in Mexico City January 11, 2013. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

By Jessica Wohl

(Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc said on Friday that Leslie Dach plans to leave his post as executive vice president of corporate affairs in June, after seven years of working to improve the corporate image of the world's largest retailer.

During his tenure, Wal-Mart has established several programs focused on its environmental efforts, health and wellness programs, women's empowerment and other areas. But it still faces issues ranging from a foreign bribery probe to labor issues at its stores and in factories that make its goods.

Dach, 58, said it was his decision to leave and that he does not have a new job lined up yet. He added that he looks forward to a little less travel after commuting between his home in Washington, D.C. and Wal-Mart's home office in Bentonville, Arkansas for several years.

After he leaves, Dach will provide counsel "across a number of areas," Chief Executive Mike Duke said in a statement.

"Leslie has played a pivotal role in helping us understand the broader role Walmart can play in meeting the major challenges facing society today, and social goals are now an integral part of how we run our business," Duke said.

Dach joined Wal-Mart in 2006 after leading an external team from Edelman that worked on the retailer's corporate affairs. He is the first head of corporate affairs to report directly to Wal-Mart's CEO, first to Lee Scott and now to Duke.

Wal-Mart has started to look for a successor to continue progress Dach led on a variety of fronts while managing the opposition from various groups that protest everything from Wal-Mart's wages to its impact on the environment.

"One of the more frustrating things to me is that far too often folks look at what we're trying to do cynically," Dach said in an interview. "Almost every time we do something it's seen through the lens of public relations instead of being valued as something meaningful and real."

EFFORTS SINCE 2005

In October 2005, when Dach was doing work for the company while at Edelman, then-CEO Lee Scott outlined several issues Wal-Mart planned to address including wages and benefits, diversity and its impact on the environment and communities.

Since then, Wal-Mart has made changes such as cutting the price of several generic prescription medications to $4, using solar power and wind turbines, working with First Lady Michelle Obama and others on increasing access to healthier foods, and committing to hire veterans looking for jobs.

Despite such progress, opposition and issues persist.

Some U.S. employees in a union-backed group continue to speak out against low wages and other concerns, most vocally with protests outside stores over the busy 2012 Thanksgiving weekend. Bribery allegations surfaced in a New York Times report in April that described how Wal-Mart intentionally stifled an early internal probe into allegations that Wal-Mart de Mexico officials had paid bribes to help build stores there, and the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating the matter. Wal-Mart itself has spent millions on its own foreign bribery probe in Mexico and elsewhere. It also faced criticism after a deadly fire at a Bangladesh factory making its clothing.

A former Democratic party strategist, Dach had been expected to leave Wal-Mart if Hillary Clinton had won the Democratic nomination in 2008, said Cowen analyst Faye Landes.

His prior roles included working for President Bill Clinton.

"He clearly has many opportunities, and we don't see his departure as a negative reflection on (Wal-Mart)," Landes said.

Dach's planned departure comes days after President Barack Obama nominated the head of the company's Walmart Foundation philanthropic unit, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, to become director of the White House budget office.

Before joining Wal-Mart, Dach was vice chairman of Edelman, where he led the firm's Washington, D.C. office. He also worked in senior positions in a number of presidential campaigns, served in U.S. President Bill Clinton's administration, worked for the U.S. Senate and for non-governmental organizations such as the National Audubon Society.

Dach said that he hopes to do work in the future that builds on efforts such as sustainability and women's economic empowerment that he has focused on at Wal-Mart.

"I've got a lot of energy and a lot of passion for making change and whatever I do next that will be a big part of it," he said. "I've got a few more fights left in me."

(The story corrects first paragraph to say his post instead of her post.)

(Reporting by Jessica Wohl in Chicago; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Phil Berlowitz and David Gregorio)

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