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4 Questions For Target CEO Brian Cornell

Target’s chief executive Brian Cornell kicked off his second year at the helm by addressing some 13,000 red-and-khaki-clad sales associates at the company’s Fall National Meeting this week.

According to a Target blog, the annual pre-holiday pep rally was also marked by frank conversations about the needs of the business and the challenges that lie ahead. While Target has made significant progress over the last year, the company said, “there is much more work to be done” as the No. 2 discount chain continues to focus on providing an “on-demand shopping experience” for customers.

Cornell, formerly chief executive of PepsiCo Americas Foods, Sam’s Club and Michael’s Stores, addressed those issues in a corporate Q&A that followed his chat with the troops.

You talked a lot about needing to fix the fundamentals at Target. Can you explain what that means?

Retail is changing more rapidly today than at any time in my career. Our guests can shop anytime, anywhere with a few quick swipes of their finger.

Thanks to digital technology, consumers carry their favorite stores around in their pockets and purses. In order to support the kind of on-demand shopping we know our guests want, we need to ensure that our core fundamentals enable our teams, stores and digital channels to deliver an exceptional experience. When they don’t, we create a frustrating experience for our guests. These are incredibly important areas we must address to truly succeed. 

So how are you going to address these issues?

Target is investing $1 billion in supply chain and technology infrastructure this year to enhance our digital capabilities, expand fulfillment options and improve the in-store experience.

However, capital alone isn’t enough. We’re also putting the right leadership in place to spearhead these efforts. John Mulligan just moved into the newly created role of COO, to serve as a single point of operational accountability and centralize the functions of stores, supply chain and properties.

We brought in Mike McNamara, one of the most respected CIOs in the industry globally, to develop our technology platform. And our CMO [chief marketing officer] Jeff Jones now serves as Target’s chief guest architect to help us think differently about our guest experience in a digitally-enabled world.

We’re also continuing the push to reduce complexity in the way we work – simplify processes, remove layers, move more quickly. Talent is an important component, ensuring we have the right people in the right roles and emphasizing the importance of leadership skills and subject matter expertise.

Does this mean you’re walking away from the strategic priorities we’ve been hearing about since March and focusing on something new?  

Not at all. Transformation requires us to do several things at once. We remain committed to our five strategic priorities and continuing to bring newness and differentiation to the guest experience. Securing the foundation will eventually allow us to bring innovation to market more quickly. We must address the fundamentals and innovate simultaneously with our guests in mind. Focusing on both will propel our strategic priorities, drive long term growth, and position Target to better meet guest needs now and in the future. 

How long will this take to fix?

I can’t speculate on a timeline, but this is Target’s most urgent task at hand. Getting the fundamentals right is critical to delivering on the long-term strategy we have laid out. And based on the response I got from the team, I am very confident in our future. In fact, I have no doubt that everyone is leaving Target Center with a renewed focus on the challenge ahead and ready to go to work.