Executive Mike Smith: I Was Passed Over For CEO Of Walmart.com, Here’s How I Came Out Of  ‘My Pity Party’

Executive Mike Smith: I Was Passed Over For CEO Of Walmart.com, Here’s How I Came Out Of  ‘My Pity Party’


Mike Smith / Walmart in Norwalk, Connecticut. (STAR MAX 2022) 

Mike Smith thought he was about to become CEO of Walmart.com. That was until he was passed over– to his surprise. Smith, the co-founder and general partner at venture capital firm Footwork, thought his executive journey was leading him straight to the CEO title.

But he was rejected for the role by his then boss. Smith had worked at the country’s largest retailer for nine years, starting out as a director at Walmart.com in 2003, according to his LinkedIn profile. He moved up to vice president and chief operating officer of Walmart.com in 2008. After leaving the company in 2012, he went on to Own The Room. Smith also worked at Imperfect Foods and Ulta Beauty. He’s now a board director at Stitch Fix as well as running his own company, Footwork.

While Smith seems to have done well for himself, there was still the sting of being passed over at Walmart.com. But he says the rejection has taught him lessons. In a Twitter thread on Sept. 14 he wrote of the experience and said the rejection by his outgoing boss was not “soul crushing” because his skills and talents were in good demand at the time.

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Walmart has been struggling with meeting its own diversity goals. An internal survey in 2021 found many high-ranking Black employees wouldn’t recommend working there, according to a Bloomberg report. At the time of the survey, Black employees comprised nearly 21 percent of the retailer’s workforce, but representation dwindled at the higher rungs of the corporate ladder.

For Smith, the rejection was time for reflection on his career. He wrote, “Being passed over for the CEO role at Walmart.com (Walmart US) was maybe one of the best things that happened in my career. Here’s why…. It was the summer of 2011, I was COO of Walmart.com after rising up the ranks over 8 years. I had been told by my boss that I would likely become the next CEO, when he announced his resignation.”

When he found out his boss was leaving he thought he would fill his shoes as CEO. So on the morning of the meeting with his boss he was ready for the role–but it was not to be. “…but then my boss’s boss said, ‘I’m leaving, too. And you will not be the next CEO.’ I was shocked and no longer needed to act. It was devastating. But it wasn’t soul crushing,” Smith posted.

He continued, “Why wasn’t it soul crushing? Fortunately, the market for my talents and services were in pretty good demand. That said, I still went to Pity City.”

After feeling sorry for himself, he decided to take action.

“I proceeded to take stock of: – my strengths and weaknesses – where I got energy from – what situations or people caused me to lose energy. This led me to better understand myself,” he posted.

There were several things he learned about himself and his career projection. “I realized I’m less motivated by title or team size, and more motivated by building and seeing teammates grow and learn,” he shared. “I also discovered that I’m not a big company person. I felt that the speed of an early stage, hyper-growth company would stretch me intellectually in a way that gave me more energy.”

The revelation, which might not have happened if he had not been rejected for the CEO, made him realize he wanted to work for a different type of company.

“I turned my focus to finding an early stage company and was super fortunate to meet Katrina Lake (@kmlake), founder of Stitch Fix. I joined early as COO in 2012 and had an amazing 9 year run.”

The lessons learned? “1. Be open to the twists and turns. Careers are very rarely linear. 2. Perceived failures can give you the best chances to learn about yourself. 3. Go crush the next opportunity you get and, hopefully, with a healthy chip on your shoulder,” he wrote.

Mike Smith, https://www.footwork.vc/ / Walmart in Norwalk, Connecticut. (STAR MAX 2022)