(Bloomberg) -- Walmart Inc. has demoted the chief operating officer of its core U.S. business and installed a finance expert in the role, shuffling its senior leadership team just before the key holiday period. 

Dacona Smith, one of the highest-ranking Black executives at the retailer, will shift to become executive vice president and chief operations officer of Walmart U.S. stores, according to an internal memo from U.S. Chief Executive Officer John Furner obtained by Bloomberg News. Chris Nicholas, previously finance chief of the U.S. unit, will take over the COO role, according to the memo.

A company veteran of about 30 years, Smith was elevated to the U.S. COO spot just last year after serving in a range of store management roles. Smith, who previously reported to Furner, will now report to Nicholas along with several other senior leaders. 

“Our goal is to do a better job of connecting the dots and flow our inventory in new and more productive ways,” Furner said in the memo, which called Nicholas’s position new despite Smith previously holding the same role as executive vice president and U.S. operating chief. A company spokeswoman said Smith’s new position doesn’t constitute a demotion.

The timing of the shuffle is unusual, as Walmart typically makes senior-management moves at the start of its fiscal year in February. Walmart is gearing up for the holiday sales season amid global supply-chain bottlenecks that have forced it to charter its own cargo vessels, and it’s trying to add 150,000 new employees to its massive 1.5 million-person U.S. workforce despite a tight labor market. Over the past year Walmart’s more than 4,700 U.S. stores have been criticized by R5 Capital analyst Scott Mushkin for failing to keep key items in stock.

Walmart’s U.S. business generated $370 billion in sales last year, two-thirds of its total revenue, and it also accounts for the lion’s share of the retailer’s profits. The U.S. operating-chief role had previously been held by Judith McKenna, who’s now CEO of the international unit and considered a possible candidate to run all of Walmart when CEO Doug McMillon eventually steps down.  

Nicholas previously served stints in the finance departments of U.K. retailer Tesco Plc and Australia’s Coles Group Ltd. before joining Walmart as deputy finance chief of its international unit in 2018, according to his LinkedIn profile. 

Steve Schmitt will take over as CFO of the U.S. business, Furner said in the memo, while Seth Dallaire joins the company from Instacart in the new postion of chief revenue officer.

Walmart shares were up 1.4% to $137.60 in New York trading at 12:18 p.m. The stock is down 4.5% this year, trailing behind the 16% gain of the S&P 500 index.

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