By Renee Dudley (c) 2014, Bloomberg News.
NEW YORK – Wal-Mart Stores’ chief spokesman has resigned after the company discovered an almost two- decade-old falsehood in his official biography, a person familiar with the situation said.
David Tovar, who announced last week that he was leaving the job as vice president of communications, has previously said he earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Delaware in 1996. While conducting additional due-diligence screening, which is standard for employees who reach a certain level, Wal-Mart discovered he never received the degree, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. Tovar, 40, joined Wal-Mart in 2006 after working for the tobacco and snack-food company Altria Group Inc.
An academic-records official from the University of Delaware confirmed to Bloomberg News that Tovar never got the diploma.
“He was discontinued on May 25, 1996,” said Janice Wiley, the academic-records assistant. That means Tovar didn’t register to finish his required coursework, she said. Before then, Tovar had been enrolled in the school’s College of Arts & Sciences, where he’d pursued a degree in art.
Dan Bartlett, executive vice president of corporate affairs for Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart, referred questions to Tovar.
“I’ll let him speak to anything about his background,” Bartlett, who is Tovar’s boss, said Tuesday. Tovar didn’t respond to questions about his academic record.
Tovar managed communications on topics as diverse as sustainability, food stamps and the ongoing probe into Wal- Mart’s alleged violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In February, Wal-Mart broadened his responsibilities to include communications across all of its U.S. businesses.
Tovar gained attention this year by criticizing the New York Times on Wal-Mart’s blog. He posted a copy of a “wildly inaccurate” Times column by Timothy Egan and marked up the text with red editor’s notes.
“Thanks for sharing your first draft,” Tovar wrote in a faux message to Egan. “Below are a few thoughts to ensure something inaccurate doesn’t get published.”
Wal-Mart sent a memo about Tovar’s departure to its U.S. leadership on Sept. 12, without elaborating on his reasons for leaving. Tovar’s college record didn’t come up in a separate farewell e-mail that he distributed to media.
“We all know the first rule of journalism is ‘don’t bury the lead’ so here goes: after eight amazing years, I’ve decided to leave Wal-Mart at the end of the month,” Tovar said in the message. “I have loved every second of every minute I’ve been with the company and I don’t have enough room in this email to give justice to the life-changing experience of working for the world’s largest retailer.”
Tovar didn’t say where he’s headed next, and a replacement at Wal-Mart hasn’t yet been named. The company is searching externally for candidates, according to the person familiar with the matter.
In an email to Bloomberg, Tovar said that now seemed like the right time to “start a new adventure.”
“As a person from the Northeast, I never thought I’d take a job in Arkansas and then stay here for eight years,” he said. “It’s been an amazing experience and I’ll definitely miss it.”