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Former CBS Interactive Head Neil Ashe to Lead Wal-Mart’s Global Online Commerce Biz

Neil Ashe, who left his job running CBS Interactive in late 2010, has taken a job helming Wal-Mart Stores’ global online commerce unit.

The retail behemoth said that Ashe will become president and CEO of its Global eCommerce division, replacing the retiring Eduardo Castro-Wright. He will operate out of Wal-Mart’s Silicon Valley office in San Bruno, Calif., but will likely make a lot of trips to the company’s HQ in Bentonville, Ark. (Ashe does not have the U.S.-based e-commerce business; Walmart.com is run by Joel Anderson, who reports up through the Wal-Mart U.S. stores business.)

In an interview earlier today, Ashe said that he was “impressed by the company’s realization that the consumer is changing … and the commitment to global e-commerce.”

Noting that Wal-Mart stores see 200 million customers a week, he said the goal was to make the online experience as compelling as the offline one.

“There has to be almost an indifference between physical stores and e-commerce,” said Ashe. “The whole company committed to winning on the Internet.”

Since he left CBS, Ashe has been advising a variety of Web start-ups, including LivingSocial. Ashe joined the board of the Washington, D.C.-based social buying company last spring.

The job at Wal-Mart is a big one, especially given its up-and-down history in the online space. That includes the recent decision to stop selling MP3s from its Web site.

It has also stepped up its efforts, including a number of small acquisitions, such as mobile advertising start-up OneRiot and mobile app company Small Society.

But it did pay big bucks — reportedly $300 million — for social media platform Kosmix.

Ashe noted that Wal-Mart is indeed still dwarfed online by online dominator Amazon. “They are very innovative and strategically adept,” he said.

With 59 million monthly visitors to its U.S. Web site and an aim to go global, how Ashe navigates Wal-Mart’s path in the next years will be interesting to watch.

Here’s the official press release:

Walmart Selects Neil Ashe to Lead Global eCommerce

San Bruno, Calif., Jan. 16, 2012 — Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT) today announced that Neil Ashe, 44, is the new president and CEO of the company’s Global eCommerce business, beginning today. Ashe was most recently president of CBS Interactive, where he led all online properties and also drove development of new ways to distribute programming produced by the media giant and its subsidiaries. Websites included CBS.com, CNET.com, CBSNews.com, and CBSSports.com, among others.

Ashe is replacing Eduardo Castro-Wright who announced his pending retirement in September and will assist in the transition.

“E-commerce is a great opportunity for us and we have a long-term vision to win,” said Mike Duke, Walmart’s president and CEO. “We are on track to create the next generation of E-commerce, combining the latest in online innovations with physical stores to give our customers a unique and seamless shopping experience.”

“We have an understanding of what these customers want, a trusted brand, 200 million weekly shoppers, more than 10,000 stores around the world, and the ability to make significant investments in talent and technology. We also have successful online businesses, including in the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Brazil. With all of this, it is clear that Walmart is the best- positioned retailer to deliver this multi-channel experience to consumers, many of whom are already connected to the world through smart phones and social media.”

Duke continued, “With his strong personal leadership skills, financial background and experience in successfully working within a major corporation to lead its Internet division, Neil is the ideal leader to help us build this business. He has led companies through all stages of growth and maturity. He also has a deep understanding of the interactive space and how to attract and convert online customers. Perhaps most importantly, much of Neil’s professional success has come through close collaboration and shared goals with his peers — a key attribute as we continue to integrate our online businesses across the company and with our physical stores.”

“Walmart is a special company,” said Ashe. “Growing up in East Tennessee, I have seen first-hand the difference it can make in the lives of its customers. E-commerce gives us a huge opportunity to expand and bring savings to many more people around the world. We have great things ahead of us and I am eager to get started and join the talented team already in place.”

As president of CBS Interactive, based in San Francisco, Ashe led the interactive content business with operations in the U.S., Europe and China. After leading the successful integration of CNET Networks with CBS, he and his team leveraged existing company assets to ramp up CBS entertainment content distribution online, including making CBS.com the largest television network site in the industry.

Prior to this, Ashe was CEO of CNET Networks, initially best known for providing technology-related information, product reviews and price comparisons through CNET.com. He also oversaw dramatic development in the company’s China division, taking it from a small magazine and events operator to a highly profitable, fast-growing online business. During his tenure, the company’s value increased from $100 million to $1.8 billion. Ultimately, Ashe led the sale of the company to CBS and became president of CBS Interactive at that time.

Earlier, Ashe founded a company focused on using the Internet to improve K-12 education in the U.S. Prior to this, he was a partner and managing director at private investment firm Crest Communications Holdings and, before that, was an associate at Smith Barney, the investment bank now part of Citigroup.

Ashe has an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School and a B.S. in Business Administration, with a major in Finance, from Georgetown University. He serves on the boards of LivingSocial, AMC Networks and the Georgetown University Board of Regents.

Over the past year, Walmart has made investments in capabilities and talent as it continues to build Global eCommerce. It has also further strengthened its position through the acquisition of small Internet specialty companies and continues to expand in new markets such as China and Brazil, including a minority stake in Chinese Internet retailer Yihaodian.

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