New CEO in Town

March 21, 2015

New CEO in Town

There’s a new CEO in town at Target — Brian Cornell — and Fortune provides a glimpse of what he has been doing in his first 100 days or so. His activities are worth noting since first impressions count when CEOs take office. He is of course particularly interesting because he is an outsider (hired from outside the company) and outsiders often flame out while insider CEOs tend to have the home advantage. Here are some of the newcomer’s activities which track with the advice we give to new CEOs:

  • Connect with customers. In his first few months, Cornell embarked on a mystery shopper tour. But his tour had a twist. Instead of Cornell walking the aisles pre-announced or with an entourage, he enlisted the help of seven loyal Target customers to frequent their favorite departments and report back on the good and bad and of course, the ugly. This information helped inform him of needed changes to attract new customers and keep the tried-and-true ones coming back.
  • Declare what matters. Cornell closed all the Target stores in Canada, a dramatic move to stop the massive bleeding there (to the tune of $5.4 billion). He made it clear that as CEO he was going to focus on the U.S. and make the hard decisions to get Target back on track. Decisive move.
  • Early wins. Over the holidays, Cornell had Target offer free shipping for online orders. It sent a signal to competitors that they were nimble and back on their feet.
  • Symbolic gestures. Instead of easing into the recently decorated executive suite, Cornell took over a small office that is situated near the social media command center. He can wander in easily and see what people are saying on Pinterest, Facebook, twitter and YouTube about Target. According to Fortune, he visits every morning and gets updates during the day. A social-minded CEO.
  • Communicate in large and small ways.  As I have posted before about CEOs, Cornell makes the right step about frequenting the cafeteria and mingling with employees. The dress code has also been made more casual. I also liked reading that he opened up a room on the usually hallowed executive floor for employees to go and check out the new merchandise and perhaps run into an executive or two. My goodness. Anarchy!
  • Give yourself the time to deliver. Cornell has said that he is giving Target three years to turn itself around and deliver. Research I have done shows that CEOs are given about 18 months to two years to start sowing the seeds of a turnaround. The remaining 12 months are where the shoots must be evident. Three years sounds about right. Will be watching.
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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

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