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Target CEO Brian Cornell is TCB’s 2019 Person of the Year

Cornell will be honored at a Dec. 17 event.

Target CEO Brian Cornell is TCB’s 2019 Person of the Year
Brian Cornell, Target Corp. CEO and chairman of the board

Twin Cities Business is pleased to announce Brian Cornell, CEO and chairman of the board for Minneapolis-based Target Corp., as its Person of the Year for 2019. Cornell, who just marked five years at the helm, has led a successful turnaround and reinvigoration effort for the Fortune 100 retailer. 

When he arrived in the Twin Cities, Cornell brought three decades of deep and varied retail industry experience including stints as CEO of PepsiCo Americas Foods, Sam’s Club and Michael’s Stores Inc. He had also been executive vice president and chief marketing officer for the Safeway grocery chain. 

Cornell’s first day on the job as CEO for Minneapolis-based retailer Target Corp. was August 12, 2014. At the time, the retailer was trying to recover from the fallout of a large data breach and stagnant sales trends. Cornell was the first “outsider” ever tapped to lead the company, which traces its roots back to 1902 with the founding of the Dayton Dry Goods Company in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. 

But Cornell didn’t waste much time. Within a matter of months, he pulled the plug on the company’s troubled efforts to expand into Canada, shutting all 133 stores north of the border. Not long after that, Target announced selling off its pharmacy business to industry giant CVS Health Corp. for $1.9 billion. 

His vision was refocusing the company on its strengths. In 2017 Cornell unveiled an ambitious plan to invest more than $7 billion in upgrading its stores, reinventing its owned brand portfolio and modernizing digital operations and supply chain. While some were skeptical, the company’s financial results show that the strategy has been paying off. 

Target posted $74.4 billion in sales for its fiscal year 2018, a solid 3.7 percent increase from the year before. The company posted a 5 percent gain in comparable sales for the year and a 36 percent increase in comparable digital sales. Target is not only surviving but is now thriving in what remains a challenging landscape for brick-and-mortar retailers. 

The company is now in the habit of delivering better-than-expected results. When it reported second quarter fiscal 2019 numbers in August, Target showed second quarter comp sales were up 3.4 percent and traffic in stores was up 2.4 percent. The company noted: “Comparable sales have grown approximately 10 percent over the last two years — the best performance in more than a decade.” The company currently has 1,855 stores across the U.S.

Cornell has also shown a willingness to make some unexpected moves to build Target’s business. In late 2017 Target announced a deal to acquire Birmingham, Alabama-based Shipt Inc., a same-day online delivery platform, for $550 million.

Target also continues to update its grocery business with the recently announced rollout of the new Good & Gather company-owned line of products that is slated to become “Target’s flagship food brand.” 

Cornell is currently chairman of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a trade association whose members account for more than $1.5 trillion in annual retail sales. He is also the non-executive chairman of the board for Louisville, Kentucky-based Yum! Brands, which owns the KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell restaurant chains. Cornell previously held board positions with Atlanta-based Home Depot Inc. and Medina-based Polaris Inc. 

Previous Person of the Year honorees have included former Best Buy chairman and CEO Hubert Joly, Ecolab CEO Doug Baker, former US Bank CEO Richard Davis, Metronic CEO Omar Ishrak, and outgoing Mayo Clinic president and CEO John Noseworthy.

Cornell will be honored at TCB’s Person of the Year event on Dec. 17 at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis. The event also celebrates honorees on this year’s “TCB 100 People to Know,” an annual list of prominent and emerging business and community leaders to watch in the year ahead. The list will appear in the December issue of the magazine.

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