MSR interviews Target CEO Brian Cornell

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MSR: Tell us about your background.

Brian Cornell (BC): I grew up in New York City in Queens in a diverse environment and moved to Los Angeles and went to UCLA. My family has lived all over the U.S. and has spent time in Asia and Europe. The last seven years have probably been the highlight of my career having the opportunity to lead an amazing organization like Target.

MSR: When you were at UCLA did you envision yourself becoming a corporate person?

BC: No, it was not my intent. When I went to UCLA I was coaching football and working in retail and paying the bills to get myself through college.

I thought I would be a high school football coach or a maybe a college coach. A high school football coach convinced me that maybe I should consider some different options. I shifted my focus from coaching kids in football to coaching executives in the retail and consumer fields. So I still get to coach. I still get to play head coach, just on a different playing field.

Photo by Cameron WIttig Target CEO Brian Cornell

MSR: Why talk to the MSR?

BC: You know how committed we are to making a difference and having an impact on our hometown. I thought it would be a good chance for you and I talk about some of things that Target has done historically, but certainly the work we have done over the last 12 months to make a difference in Minneapolis and across the country.

MSR: Give us some background on the origins of Target.

BC: I can take you back all the way to 1962 and the first Target store that opened up in town. Most people fail to recognize the longstanding commitment to philanthropy from day one. We made a commitment to give back 5% of our pretax profits and we do that today. It goes back to the founding Dayton family.

If we can help the communities we serve, it’s going to be good for the community and it’s going to be good for Target. And we are a company that has a rich history of giving back and serving community. 2020 was an exception to the rule. Normally I would be talking about our team volunteering over a million hours each year to local causes. It comes back to some of the core values and principles of the company.

We have a longstanding commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s a core part of who we are. Importantly, it has helped drive our business. That’s not something that’s new—we have had a diversity and inclusion strategy and office in place for now over 15 years. That allows us to recruit and retain tremendous talent and more diverse team members. Offering our diverse suppliers an opportunity to do business with Target allows us to direct our philanthropic efforts in local communities to help improve the lives of those guests around the country.

MSR: How did Target become the behemoth that it is today?

BC: It uses a very unique business model. Our core model has been” expect more, pay less.” The brand itself is really unique in retail today, and if you shop our stores you can buy apparel for yourself and your family and all the things you need for your home, kitchen appliances. We are one of the largest toy retailers in the country.

We have an important electronic and office supply selection. We have beauty and household essentials, and then we have food and beverage. Part of our business model [is to] have a balanced portfolio, basically everything you need. We offer a blend of the great national brands and our own brands. And we deliver tremendous value and quality each and every day.

It appeals to a broad base of Americans. On average we serve over 30 million consumers every week. And over the last few years we have adopted our business model to really build digital capabilities and fulfillment capabilities that allows us to stock our stores on Monday.

We have adapted to the demands of the market. We acquired a company called Shipt, so now we have somebody who can go shopping for you and bring it right to your doorstep. Those services have been important to those who were staying home to stay safe. It deepened our engagement with consumers all over the country.

Mike Mozart

MSR: How did you all decide to put a small vendor like Honey Pot on your shelves?

BC: It’s something we have been very focused on for years. We have the responsibility to open an opportunity to smaller diverse vendors to place their products in our stores. We want both our team and our assortment to reflect that local community.

It’s essentially important today in our business environment to make sure we have diverse vendors that represent our guests [and] that have unique products to have an opportunity to work with Target. And Honey Pot was one great example, but there are literally dozens of others.

Over the last 12 months we started up an internal committee, our Racial Equity Action and Change Committee. One of the pillars is making sure we are elevating our focus on bringing new Black diverse vendors into our company so that we can bring in products that are relevant to the Black communities we serve across America. So Honey Pot was an example of the work we do every day.

MSR: Tell us more about your efforts to rebuild the Lake Street and Minnehaha store.

BC: That store has been in place for decades and has provided essential services to that community. So when we saw the damage and recognized there was going to be a gap in the marketplace, we recognized that we had to continue to serve that community.

While we do this a lot, it’s likely the fastest rebuild in our company’s history. We knew how important that store was to the community and the role we had to play, but as we started rebuilding the store we made sure we had the right partners. We partnered with a diverse construction team.

MSR: What was it that motivated you to work with the community in the rebuild?

BC: It’s not new to us… We did the same thing in Philadelphia where we had a store that was badly damaged. Our efforts were driven by the fact that our store was so essential to the local community. And our team rallied like never before.

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