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Can Next CEO Make Target Chic Again?

Target has been installing organizational reinforcements in rapid succession since Gregg Steinhafel’s ouster as CEO.

Target has addressed several soft spots in advance of appointing a new chief to carry on after interim CEO John Mulligan, the retailer’s CFO. 

Target replaced Tony Fisher as president of its struggling Canadian operation with Mark Schindele, previously Target’s senior vp/merchandising operations. 

It has named new senior vice presidents to lead the integration of such acquisitions as Chef’s Catalog and; and to oversee the company’s paid, earned, owned and shared media initiatives. Target also formed a digital advisory council to accelerate digital initiatives and help guide omnichannel strategies. 

Executive Suite

So where does this leave Target’s CEO search? That many executive suite changes have been made ahead of a new CEO could foretell the top job going to a Target insider or to a limited-term turnaround specialist less inclined to demand his or her own team.

The CEO search could be thrown into more flux because shareholders reportedly are being advised by proxy to replace several directors at this month’s annual meeting in the aftermath of last fall’s massive data breach.

That data breach, on top of Target’s troubled Canadian entry and lagging digital strategy, dropped the hammer on Steinhafel’s 35-year run with the retailer.

The next Target CEO certainly must get all these operational matters under control swiftly to restore the confidence of shareholders. But is that enough to win back customers?

Return Engagement

Analysts and business media have speculated on several possible Steinhafel successors, including such Target insiders as Mulligan, merchandising and supply chain vp Kathryn Tesija and stores evp Tina Schiel. Outsiders cited in some circles as possible candidates include Glenn Murphy, the current Gap chief with deep Canadian retail roots; and Mindy Grossman, who has overseen a fashionable turnaround at HSN.

Some have even been tempted to suggest a return engagement by one of Target’s “shabby chic” architects, Ron Johnson, his J.C. Penney failure notwithstanding. 

As outrageous and unlikely as that is, such sentiment underscores a view held by many: Target must recommit to the leading-edge mass merchandising and marketing innovation (bred by the likes of Johnson and Steinhafel) that primed Target’s ascent as urgently as it must repair fissures in its operational core.

Mounting pressures of a mature marketplace can shift management priorities, alter a corporate culture and contribute to the types of strategic and tactical missteps that ultimately took down Steinhafel.

Target’s effort to start rebuilding its executive team before appointing a CEO may help seal some cracks. 

But it is vital to find a CEO with the command and dexterity to reengineer a responsive, sturdy operational foundation that can restore confidence in Target while refocusing a vision for merchandising and marketing innovation that can keep Target chic.