Retailers

Target's Brian Cornell: Company culture ‘part of who we are’

CEO and top executives stress role of shared values in retailer’s success in keynote panel at NRF 2023 Retail’s Big Show.
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At the National Retail Federation’s annual convention, Target CEO Brian Cornell led a panel of some of his top executives on leadership and culture. / Photo: Russell Redman

Culture is the common denominator for Target’s success as a company, according to Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell.

At the National Retail Federation’s “NRF 2023 Retail’s Big Show” convention in Manhattan on Monday, Cornell led a panel on retail leadership with top Target executives, all women: Christina Hennington, executive vice president and chief growth officer; Cara Sylvester, executive vice president and chief guest experience officer; Kiera Fernandez, senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer; and Alexis Sheppert, group vice president of stores for Virginia/North Carolina.

“This is really our culture in action,” Cornell said of the panelists, “and it shouldn't be a surprise because at Target, one-third of our board are women, half of our leadership team are women and, of our almost 2,000 stores, over half of them are led by female leaders.”

Fernandez said Target’s “Care, Grow and Win Together” mantra—how its more than 400,000 employees work as a team and support each other—forms the foundation of the company’s culture and reflects its values of inclusivity, connection and drive. That has especially stood out in the past few years amid the pandemic, she noted.

“We went through the exercise of understanding that we’ve got all of this great energy and people that care the communities that we operate in. What’s our rally call? How do we encapsulate that in words? So we went out and talked to the team,” Fernandez explained. “So ‘Care, Grow and Win Together’ is our phrase that really captures our culture because it captures the voice of the team, again at a time when we all needed to care together and grow together because we were managing through one of the most challenging experiences in any of our lives.”

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From left: Target's Brian Cornell, Kiera Fernandez, Christina Hennington, Alexis Sheppert and Cara Sylvester at the NRF 2023 Retail’s Big Show Monday morning keynote. / Photo: Russell Redman

That team sentiment is reflected across the business, and it’s not missed by the customers who shop Target’s stores and are served by its associates, executives said.

“How do we bring that great best experience forward at a time when our guests are facing so many unique challenges? I would say my most practical piece of advice is when you care for your team first, they will care for your guests, for your customers, for your community,” Sylvester said. “Every single one of us, all 400,000 team members, plays a critical role in ensuring that our guests have an amazing experience. Our guests actually feel our culture when they’re walking through our stores or interacting with us.”

According to Hennington, Target’s culture extends beyond its internal team to its business partners.

“We think of our partners—whether it’s vendors, suppliers or other partners in technology or marketing, etc.—as an extension of our team. So our culture of ‘Care, Grown and Win Together’ is meant to represent the entire ecosystem of people we work with,” she said. “The strength of our relationships and the investments we’ve made in in connecting and building new strategies together is what got us through and allowed us to grow at the rate that we did. We added about $30 billion in top-line sales in the last couple years, and we were able to continue give our guests newness in innovation, especially in our own brand portfolio.”

Sheppert cited an example that she said conveys the strong sense of community in Target’s culture. During the recent severe snowstorm that struck western New York, a Target store director in Buffalo, let stranded people inside the store for shelter, and they had Starbucks coffee and talked with the store team, which provided coloring activities for the kids.

“That’s just a great moment and a great example to see how impactful the Target culture can truly be on their local communities,” said Sheppert.

“It might be my favorite story from the holiday season,” Cornell added.

Cornell concluded by emphasizing that culture “isn’t something that just sits on the wall.”

“We have to embrace that culture each and every day and be great role models for every part of the organization, for our guests and for our communities,” he said. “It’s part of who we are. It’s how we lead. It’s how we think about running the business and driving the business.”

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