Mitch Slape sits clutching a large Starbucks travel cup with the word "Japan" neatly printed on it. "It holds a lot of coffee," Massmart’s new CEO says in his thick Kansas twang. His accent may be as broad as the aisles in Makro’s warehouses, but this shouldn’t be a surprise: he comes from a place which he says still has "more cows than people — and lots of wheat".

That cup says much more about Slape than his need for extra caffeine: it speaks to his corporate American DNA, refined over 20 years at Walmart, and evokes his previous secondment by the world’s largest retailer as head of its Japanese arm...

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