Brian Cornell

Kiera Fernandez

Christina Hennington

Alexis Sheppert

Cara Sylvester

The future of retail leadership: Target CEO Brian Cornell in conversation with top female leaders

Target CEO Brian Cornell, the National Retail Federation’s 2022 “Visionary” Honoree, gathered a group of colleagues to talk about Target’s culture. The conversation with top leaders from Target’s diverse leadership team, discussed what it means to build a strong company culture – and why it’s more critical than ever to the success of retailers, as we navigate a volatile environment. They discussed their vision for the future of retail leadership, how to recruit your own team as champions of your company culture, and how cultures can fuel future growth. This group of forward-thinking leaders bring decades of experience and unique perspectives, from the C-suite to the front lines. Cornell noted that the inclusive panel was “really our culture in action,” and the conversation featured unique perspectives, from the C-suite to the front lines, on why and how Target built a culture of caring, growing and winning together.

Brian Cornell, CEO, Target 

For companies going forward, you have to have a great strategy, you have to have great capabilities, you have to have really talented teams. But culture plays such an important role in driving results for Target, and so many of us.

“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. 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.”

Kiera Fernandez
Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Target

“One-third of Target’s Board of Directors is women, half of our leadership team are women and over half of our stores are led by females,” said Target CEO Brian Cornell. That’s likely a result of the retailer having had a diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) strategy for the past 17 years. “This represents the phases and stages you go through when you’re building something from the ground up,” said Kiera Fernandez, SVP and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer.

The corporate culture at Target is not imposed from the top. “We use culture as a guidepost,” Fernandez said. “We use it as a set of filters for decisions we make in the business, both big and small. And that's all in pursuit of our purpose, which means to help all families discover the joy of everyday life. So one of our core values is inclusivity. And of course this is about who we hire and the environment we create so that everyone can have a sense of belonging to Target. But it's also about what we set in terms of expectations for our guests.”

“We include the voice of our 400,000+ team members,” said Fernandez. “We went through the exercise of understanding them and the communities that we operate in. What’s our rally call? It’s that we care, grow and win together. That captures the voice of the team and helped us manage through one of the most challenging experiences any of us have had to face -- the COVID pandemic.”

Christina Hennington
EVP and Chief Growth Officer, Target

Culture isn’t something that’s built in a day, and the strength of Target’s relationships with partners, vendors and others — and its investments made in connecting and building strategies together — had a dramatic impact during the recent season. Despite factory shutdowns, supply issues and COVID-19, Target added about $30 billion in top line sales over the last couple of years, including launching a variety of new brands.

That’s all in pursuit of our purpose, which is to help all families discover the joy of everyday life.

Alexis Sheppert
Group Vice President for Stores, Target

I consider myself extremely fortunate as I have the opportunity to witness the manifestation of Target's culture every day through our store teams. The development of our teams, particularly our store leaders, is a unique aspect of Target's culture. This summer, I had the privilege of attending a leadership immersion program hosted by you, Brian Cornell, in L.A. for our Hispanic Latino officers. During this program, we had the chance to engage with some of the local store leaders, and it was a profoundly impactful experience. Specifically, we learned how the Target culture has significantly influenced their personal and professional lives. I recall hearing from one of the store directors who shared her remarkable journey of starting as an hourly team member at her local store in the South Gate Area. Over time, the leaders she worked with identified her potential and made investments to enable her to reach new heights in her career. She capitalized on numerous opportunities, such as our "Dreams To Be" program, and became the first in her family to graduate college and own a home. Currently, she holds an incredible opportunity to lead the store located in her community. This experience resonated with me as I pondered the impact it had on our hourly team members. I recollect being in a similar situation and looking up to other leaders, particularly female and diverse leaders, and realized the significance of their representation. In my opinion, this is an excellent illustration of how our culture comes to life in our stores.

A store leader in Buffalo, N.Y., stepped up for the community during the recent severe snowstorm in the area. The store director quickly decided to open the doors for those who needed shelter. But it went beyond offering safety and warmth; the store also offered coffee, hot chocolate, coloring activities for the kids and more, infusing a bit of joy and sense of family into what could have been a “really, really stressful” time.

Cara Sylvester
EVP & Chief Guest Experience Officer, Target

“Our culture really fuels us. And because it fuels us, it’s a deep part of our brand. And that absolutely shows up to our guests. When you interact with the Target brand … we want you to feel something. Those feelings that are evoked are because we think about designing our guest experience around a deep emotional connection with our guests, not a transactional, linear one.”

Sylvester shared the story of a Black mom, based in the United Kingdom but visiting the United States for work, who reached out about ballerina Christmas ornaments she had found at the store. The ornaments had a skin tone the woman’s daughters could see themselves in, Sylvester said, and it made all the difference.

“These moments don’t just happen by chance. They happen because our culture of care and our core value of inclusivity run deep in all of us. And by all of us, I mean all 400,000 team members. It absolutely shows up authentically to our guests. When our guests feel seen, when they feel heard, when they feel cared for, that all adds up to more joy in their lives, which is what we’re all here to do.”

FEB 2023