Target Says Goodbye to Innovation Chief

Apr 20, 2017

Target (tgt) isn't done tinkering with its c-suite.

The discount retailer said on Thursday that its chief innovation and strategy officer, Casey Carl, was leaving the company next month after 20 years, a departure that comes as Target tries to get a faster payoff from its tech investments amid shrinking sales.

Carl's exit is just the latest at Target's c-suite, which in the last 18 months has seen the departures of its heads of stores, marketing, human resources and its chief digital officer among others. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune first reported Carl's leaving the company.

Target is under pressure to improve its sales performance after reporting three straight quarters of comparable sales declines and saying in February it didn't expect 2017 to be much better. In contrast, Walmart and Amazon.com are each enjoying rising sales. Target scared investors earlier this year when it said it would spend $7 billion over three years on upgrading its stores, e-commerce, supply chain and lower prices, investments that will slam its profit margins.

That urgency to get back on track and focus on projects with a clearer and quicker benefit that fix the basics of retail left little room for more experimental efforts. Target recently scrapped an ambitious "store of the future" initiative it had planned to open in Silicon Valley, a place where it was to have showcased robots among other innovations, one of a number of projects Carl had overseen.

"We made a tough choice," Target CEO Brian Cornell said at the Shoptalk conference last month in reference to the store of the future being scrapped. "Our focus on innovation has to be something we can realize over the next three or four years inside the core business."

In an e-mail to staff announcing Carl's departure, Cornell said the company would look for a replacement and sought to reassure employees about Target's ongoing focus on developing and deploying up-to-date retail tech. "Innovation is alive and well at Target," Cornell wrote in the email, which was obtained the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and whose contents were confirmed by Target. "Innovation must be a mind-set, an essential component of every business, every strategy and every team."

Still, Target will keep some of Carl's initiatives. Among them Target's Open House store in San Francisco that showcases Internet of Things items, along with its collaboration with tech accelerator Techstars in looking for and mentoring retail tech startups. It's easy to understand why Target is keeping that initiative alive, given Walmart's recent plan to launch of its own retail incubator, one it has said will take a long term view of tech development.

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