The American dream is alive and well at Target. While companies like Coca Cola have spent billions to fabricate an image of Americana for themselves, Target authentically embodies the American dream in its new CEO, Gregg Steinhafel.
Retail employees everywhere can get inspired by the story of a man who graduated from college, got an entry-level merchandising job, worked his way through the ranks, and 29 years later assumed the top position of the company where he’s spent his entire career. It is the classic story of anything’s possible, hard work is rewarded, and persistence pays off. Steinhafel represents the essence of the American opportunity.
In his 29 years at Target, Steinhafel has held just about every position that has ever existed in a retail organization. He spent 15 years in merchandising roles, and it was 20 years before he was named president. Steinhafel’s predecessor, Bob Ulrich, also worked in the company for 20 years before taking the leadership reins. This is a definite demonstration of what Target values in its leadership team-- stability, loyalty, and a depth of understanding that comes only with experience
It seems that their slow and steady executive grooming strategy pays off well for both the corporation and the CEO. Target’s sales and store presence tripled under the Ulrich’s leadership, and its net earnings increased nearly nine-fold. More valuable than monetary earnings, Target was named by Fortune magazine this year as the 11th most admired company in America. That is a reputation that was not bought. It was earned.
Target has what it calls a “Community Responsibility” policy. Many retail organizations claim to have values that they believe will boost their image in the eyes of financial analysts, but Target actually backs up its claims in a tangible and measurable way. Target’s parent company, Dayton Hudson, has contributed 5% of its pretax profits to charitable and community organizations since 1946. Target has participated in this 5% giving practice since it was founded in 1962. Although Dayton Hudson doesn’t advertise the total amount of contributions they’ve made in their 62-year history of giving, since their donations will be about $150 million just this year, it’s safe to say the total calculation is mind-boggling. At a time when the retail industry is struggling, Target has not reallocated its charitable contributions in order to pad its bottom line.
Target, in a word, is grounded. It is rooted in its promise “to provide consistent growth plus a long-term plan to sustain our success.” If there are any short-term quarterly return strategies employed at the expense of the customer, they are imperceptible. Instead of living from quarter to quarter, Target is focusing on building for the future. It’s a shining example of what corporate American can be. Target is, in another word, inspiring.