Is Walmart stumbling in Silicon Valley talent wars?

Walmart eCommerce reviewsIf you follow Silicon Valley, you know that high-tech companies are locked in a never-ending war for top engineering talent.

And if you follow Walmart’s efforts in the eCommerce arena, you know the company’s been working hard to overcome a legacy of failed initiatives to increase online sales. Walmart CFO Charles Holley recently acknowledged the company’s historical weakness in eCommerce  to Internet Retailer, while suggesting that the company was finally turning things around:

We also know that we have not been good at the technology part of this, but we’re catching up quickly with our search engine and how we market on the Internet.

CEO Mike Duke projected a similar “turnaround” narrative in a June 7 call with industry analysts.

On the ground, the company’s turnaround effort is based on making acquisitions that provide the company with the technologies and – perhaps more importantly – talented engineers that can help Walmart make some breakthroughs. Since the summer of 2011, Walmart has purchased a number of companies focused on big data analytics, search technology, and mobile apps and folded them into its new eCommerce development arm, known as @WalmartLabs.

It remains an open question whether an acquisition strategy can solve Walmart’s apparent difficulties with attracting and retaining top talent in a highly competitive corner of the labor market.

A number of founders of companies acquired by Walmart have already left, including Venky Harinarayan and Anand Rajaraman (Kosmix) and Tobias Peggs (OneRiot).

According to Fast Company, Harinarayan and Rajaraman left Walmart after a year, before the completion of their contractually specific “earn-out” phase. To do so, they reportedly gave up a portion of the proceeds from the original sale of Kosmix. While they tell journalists not to read anything negative into their early departure, it deprived Walmart of admittedly brilliant retail technologists (the two had been critical to Amazon.com’s early success).

It’s not clear whether or not these departures indicate deeper problems within Walmart’s eCommerce division. But employee reviews posted to the website Glassdoor.com suggest that Walmart may not be all that competitive in the Silicon Valley talent wars. Only 50 percent of Walmart eCommerce employees who posted reviews said they would recommend their employer to a friend. This leaves Walmart well behind employers like Facebook (94 percent), Google (91 percent) and Apple (81 percent), with which it must compete for talent.

If the future of Walmart’s eCommerce turnaround depends on attracting the best and the brightest in high-tech, the company may yet have work to do.

What do you think?