Andy Dunn’s departure from Walmart indicative of a broader problem
In a LinkedIn post Friday, “A Love Letter to Walmart,” Andy Dunn, founder of menswear site Bonobos, praised Walmart’s digital transformation as he announced plans to leave in 2020.
He wrote, “I watched our strategy evolve as we uncorked our unique advantages on a new omni playing field — and began to identify where we aren’t just catching up, but where we are winning.”
Walmart wrote in an internal memo, “As an entrepreneur at heart, Andy Dunn has decided now is the right time to take the next steps in his career. During the last two and a half years, Andy’s contributions to the organization have been invaluable.”
Bonobos was bought by Walmart in 2017, and Mr. Dunn became SVP of digital consumer brands, which includes Bonobos, Moosejaw, ShoeBuy, Hayneedle, Allswell and Eloquii. Along with Jet.com, those startups supported Walmart’s digital push.
News of his pending exit arrives after reports in July that some of Walmart’s leaders have become frustrated by the slow path to profitability of the retailer’s online operations. Yet his exit appears smoother than some others. WhatsApp’s co-founder, Brian Acton, left Facebook in 2018 over privacy disagreements, and he’s still calling for Facebook accounts to be deleted.
The exits of founders and key personnel from acquired tech startups is common. Reasons cited include misalignment of values and vision, personal ambition or interest in other opportunities.
Other high-profile cases include the exit of Shipt’s founder from Target this past March, two years after the sale; Chewy.com’s co-founder and CEO’s exit in March 2018, 14 months after Petsmart’s purchase; and the exit of Instagram’s founders in September 2018, six years post-sale.
Purdue University researchers found last year that when startups lose their founder CEOs, they become more risk-averse, and that makes it harder to attract talent.
Recent research from Wharton found startup employees across levels acquired through acquisitions leave their newly merged companies at twice the rate of regular hires with nearly identical profiles. Despite the allure of stock options, the study similarly found the cause to be a mismatch between the organizational structure of the acquirer and the entrepreneurial spirit of the startup.
- A Love Letter to Walmart – LinkedIn
- Is Walmart at an online crossroads? – RetailWire
- Bonobos Founder Andy Dunn Is Leaving Walmart – Business Of Fashion
- Bonobos founder Andy Dunn to depart Walmart in 2020 – CNBC
- Mismatch: Why Workers Don’t Stay After an Acquisition – Wharton
- Why Innovation May Suffer When a Company’s Founder Leaves – Wall Street Journal
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How important is it to retain startup founders, co-founders and other key personnel after an acquisition, and for how long? What’s the key to retaining employees that have become accustomed to a more entrepreneurial structure?