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Business Comment

James Moore: Elderly Wal-Mart is not practising what its British hireling is preaching

Outlook Do you run a small independent retailer? Scared that the mighty Wal-Mart or its British mini-me, Asda, is going to plonk one of its outlets on your doorstep?

Fear not! They could become the architects of their own extinction. Its chief lieutenant on airstrip one, Andy Clarke, says retailers are doomed if they fail to hire younger people: "You've got to be prepared to open yourself up to realise you haven't got all the answers, and in the growth channels that is going to come from a younger generation."

Based on the make-up of its boardroom, Wal-Mart is going the way of the dodo and the carrier pigeon. The average age of those around the boardroom table at the home of the Wal-Mart family in Bentonville, Arkansas, is 60. But that's the mean, and is distorted by the likes of Yahoo's Marissa Mayer, representing the kids at 38, and her pal, the private equity magnate Gregory Penner (44). The median comes in at 63.5.

Wal-Mart, it seems, isn't practising what its hireling is preaching. Its habit of keeping former CEOs hanging around into their dotage doesn't help. They're noticeably not giving way to "younger, talented people who have got experience for the future".

In fact Mr Clarke is right, but it's not just young people's thinking and influence that companies like Asda and Wal-Mart could do with a bit of. Take the example of Mr Clarke's Leyton branch, where I have had the misfortune to shop on occasion. It clearly operates on principles that would appear sensible to the average MBA graduate, being designed to squeeze the maximum amount of revenue per square inch of floor space. That means the aisles are squeezed, particularly by comparison to the Christmas winner among the big four supermarkets, Sainsbury's. As a result, going there is a horrible experience if you have children in tow or if you use a wheelchair (as I do).

Mums and disabled people are not well represented on Wal-Mart's board. Ms Mayer is a prominent exception in the former category – but her pram is presumably pushed by her nanny, who hangs out in the nursery she had built next to her office to get around her edict banning staff from working from home.

The best of it is that Wal-Mart's board, which has four women, one of whom is Hispanic, together with two African Americans, is positively awash with diversity compared with most of those in the FTSE 100.