Target Creates Talent Pool for Others

Discussion
Feb 13, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Target has become a target, of sorts. Other companies looking to copy Target’s success have gone head hunting for executives from the Minneapolis-based retailer.


Mike Peterson, a former vice president at Target’s department store division, told the Star Tribune, “Most companies today would kill to get a Target executive at any level. For the most part, any time a job opens anywhere, the first thing headhunters ask is, ‘Who’s available at Target?’ “


Today, reports the paper, Target alumni hold senior management positions at numerous direct and indirect competitors of the chain, including Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Staples and Toys R Us.


The more successful the company has become, the more valued its management team has become on the job market.


According to Mr. Peterson, “If you work in Target’s headquarters, you’re called all the time. The number of people who leave is infinitesimal [compared with] the number of people who could.”


Target has earned a reputation for identifying and developing talent within its ranks.


Another Target alumni, Allen Ditrich, said, “It’s a company that’s steeped in training and mentorship, and it gives its managers at every level a lot of decision-making authority. Not many retail companies do that anymore.”


Moderator’s Comment: Are Target executives more sought after for jobs than those at other companies? What makes it seemingly so successful at developing
talent?


The Star Tribune reports identified four senior Target executives that are thought to be potential CEO candidates at other retailers. They are company
president Greg Steinhafel; CFO Douglas Scovanner; Michael Francis, executive vice president in charge of marketing; and Bart Butzer, executive vice president of stores.


George Anderson – Moderator

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15 Comments on "Target Creates Talent Pool for Others"


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Marc Drizin
Guest
Marc Drizin
15 years 20 days ago
Caution: Talent does not necessarily breed success. Most of the comments provided so far talk about the Target “culture,” one of training and development, risk taking, customer focus, mentoring, and caring about the employee. Not all companies share these same values. You often hear stories of recently hired executives leaving after 12 or 18 months due to a “clash of cultures.” In most cases, neither party properly vetted the other to make sure there was a good “fit.” In the cases of executives, especially senior executives, there is usually little concern with the ability of a candidate to do the job. However, little attention is given to ensure that the right person is getting the right job at the right time, a key aspect of “selecting” a new employee instead of just hiring one. So, does a Target executive have the skills necessary to be successful in another company? Of course, just like executives from other excellent companies can use their talents elsewhere. That’s not the question. The question is whether the new company will… Read more »
David Zahn
Guest
15 years 20 days ago

This phenomena has been occurring nearly forever – P&G managers were highly sought after to put brand management into place at other manufacturers, Category Managers from HEB were often tabbed to introduce it to other retailers, Anheuser-Busch executives and Gallo managers were brought in to apply business planning skills to other “three tier” selling environments. As an industry, we look for those that have plowed the fields before and learned the lessons…and then ask them to do it in the new environment.

Kudos to Target for recognizing that it needed “differently profiled” people to compete against its competitors, and as a result of that success; they have become a resource for other retailers looking to glean some of that magic for themselves.

What can be done about it? Just build “bench strength” so that when the executive leaves, there is someone else prepared and ready to step up to the position.

Kai Clarke
Guest
15 years 20 days ago

Target is a great example of an organization which has good leadership, great internal communication and a good team. However, it is no different than Cisco was in the late ’90s, or GE, Best Buy, Disney, P&G, etc. — who are all leaders in their own right and have great organizations with a talented management pool. The key here is to recognize that there is no “secret sauce.” The sum of a well-led, focused team will always be greater than its parts. You can take some of these components away, and the team will continue, but the components may not have the same focus, drive or value in a different scenario. We often forget how important the captain of the ship is in creating the right sense of community, leading the organization in the right direction and growing its people. This was easy to see when Steve Jobs returned to Apple and the culture changed, the company’s focus changed and so did its success.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
15 years 20 days ago
The same “Talent Pool” discussion could revolve around Disney and The Gap alumni. I have worked with numerous professionals who were brought into new retail situations because of their previous association with successful companies in an effort of their new employer to learn a little of the magic. Two cautions I would have, however for both change-seeking employers and individuals who plan to take their knowledge and bolt to a company trying to lure them away. For employers; what was the real contribution made by the individual toward the success of their old company? How many people can take credit for the development or implementation of that good idea? For moving employees; your new home may not have the infrastructure of your old company. Does the new employer have the same commitment to success, team building effort, or willingness to change as you were used to in the past? Will you be the lone survivor on an island trying to be heard? Hopefully, bringing in an expert from one of retail’s visionary companies is just… Read more »
Kerry Ryan
Guest
Kerry Ryan
15 years 20 days ago

Generally, when someone is trained and mentored well to be a team member within a successful, supportive network, those skills and abilities will remain intact with that person to draw upon the remainder of his or her career. The true test of those abilities, however, comes when that person is placed in a less than desirable situation. The true measure of success is when a person can take those skills, problem solve, implement solutions, and show gains and improvement when no one else can. True talent should be sought out at the companies that are currently undergoing significant change (bankruptcy, for sale, in the process of merger/acquisition). That’s where the passionate visionaries are…just waiting to become a team at the company who can recognize this simple fact.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 20 days ago

Easy time-saving shortcut for executive search: steal someone from a successful brand. The fit may be wrong, there may be better qualified alternatives, but who can be blamed for the mistake? It’s like years ago, when IT folks considering new computers were told, “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” The number #1 lesson Target teaches (without stating it), “We treat people decently so they’re productive and they stay with us. Our policy is to be a preferred employer. Being preferred, we get can select the best and keep the best.” How many retailing firms have learned this lesson?

Jeremy Sacker
Guest
Jeremy Sacker
15 years 20 days ago
As a former employee of Best Buy, knowing more than my fair share of former and current Target execs and living in Minnesota, I can safely say that Target does an excellent job of training all employees, not just execs. I would argue that Target is better at process, quality and understanding its customers than any other retailer in the United States. Target found a flaw in Wal-Mart’s business model early, and they exploited it to become one of the most respected retailers in the world. Growing up in the Midwest, I remember that Target and Kmart were equals. While Kmart tried to go head to head with Wal-Mart, Target took the high ground, literally, and the rest is history. In my experience, Target execs are to retail what GE execs have been to the manufacturing industry (with the rare exception of Nardelli at Home Depot). The challenge Target has in the future is to continue to innovate to stay ahead of the competition but, probably most importantly, it needs look to new markets both… Read more »
Charlie Moro
Guest
Charlie Moro
15 years 20 days ago

I happen to agree with Bernie… success is a great benchmark for any company and, having some interaction with the people identified, they not only would be great leaders elsewhere, but there are even more right behind them that continue to keep the company on the cutting edge.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
15 years 20 days ago

Another reason that Target executives (and buyers, and DM’s and planners and…) are so desirable is that Target, for the most part, maintains a YOUNG, yet qualified, team…so many funny stories about salty dog vendors assuming that the guy or gal they greeted pre-meeting was an assistant, not their senior buyer (BAD vendor!). Many competing retailers are hoping to cure their good ol’ boy ills by drinking from Target’s fountain of youth!

Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
15 years 20 days ago
Retail, like so many other insular industries, tends to look to the “champions” for executive talent. Like the NFL, where all of a sudden everyone who had anything to do with Bill Walsh and the San Francisco 49ers West Coast Offense was head coaching material, and a savior to be. The reality is that some organizations invest more in management training, executive feedback, and merchant development. Target is one of these. In truth, many of Target’s executives are better trained and better informed than many of their peers in other organizations. Relatively speaking, Target executives get better training, more cross functional exposure, and are influenced by better practices than many other executives. However, the rush to bag a TG executive is less based on factual analysis of the training and development, knowledge sets and skills than it is in the lemming-like approach that characterizes most retail strategy. It is important to look at the skills, abilities, competencies and talent orientation when compared to the needs of the organization. Too many companies have hired the “star”… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
15 years 20 days ago

The success of Target certainly makes their executives attractive as potential new members of a management team. In part, the Target executives’ success is due to the effort of specific individuals. In part, the success of Target is due to the system, process, and mix of individuals who have been and are continually trained. Hiring a few individuals away from that system will have an impact on their system but is not necessarily going to change their culture, system, process, and goals. On the other hand, hiring one person into a new system, process, and set of goals does not necessarily create an environment in which the new company can copy Target’s success, unless that person is given carte blanche to change the culture, processes, and system in the new company.

Mark Burr
Guest
15 years 20 days ago
Mr. Drizin’s comments are exactly correct. Expecting executives trained by others or successful elsewhere to perform the same assumes that all else is the same at their destination. Making that assumption is false on both sides – both for the executive and for the employer. What’s troubling about discussions like these are a couple things; one, assuming Target’s formula is transferable, and two, assuming that copying others would lead to the same success. If copying was so easy, there would be a second Wal-Mart right down the street. For that matter, what might seem easy, there would be others out here successfully challenging Starbucks. After all, it’s just coffee, right? Real leaders take pieces and portions from all types of areas and formulate a model that can be successful in their culture. Real leaders understand their own cultures. They understand how to form it, modify it, and evolve it. Looking to others to solve your woes is likely to simply cause you more. You can’t steal or lure success. You can however create it –… Read more »
Ian Percy
Guest
15 years 20 days ago
So many organizations continue to look for the miracle cure – in this case a retail savior from Target who will come in and heal a dismal profit malaise. Without question any organization is better off with a visionary and passionate leader than without one. But that’s like saying I’d rather be healthy and rich than sick and poor. How many times have we seen a superstar CEO go into a company only to leave it in six months because there wasn’t a fit and the company drove him or her nuts? It’s the profile and mix of the whole senior leadership team that is critical, not the presence of a superstar. Furthermore the ‘mix’ you need depends on where your company is on the business lifecycle. If you are an emerging enterprise you need a certain mix. If you desperately need transformation because you’ve stalled and are starting to lose it, you need another mix. On this latter example, let me just say that that the team that built an organization is NOT the… Read more »
Bernie Slome
Guest
Bernie Slome
15 years 20 days ago

Success breeds success. Throughout history, companies who are good at training and mentoring their leadership serve as a “farm system” for many other companies. Other companies who have experienced the same phenomena are GE and Microsoft. It isn’t just that Target trains their leadership, it is also that the leadership is able to execute what they have learned. Target should be very proud that they are leading the way and if the program is so good, they aren’t concerned about the future talent, because there is always new talent in the wings.

will graves
Guest
will graves
15 years 19 days ago

From the store level to headquarters, everything at Target takes place using TEAM work. By emphasizing the importance of a team, and team efforts, nearly anything is possible. People perform at higher levels when they are encouraged and motivated. It is very unusual to hear negative comments within a Target store. Everything is about building the individual, and there is a constant desire to reward those who perform well in order to encourage the others, who may be performing at a mediocre level, to kick their game up a notch. Punishing those people does no one good; it simply frustrates us all. But somehow, when they see others being rewarded and recognized, they too want to succeed. Target is a great company.

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