Target’s C-Suite Shakeout Continues as Its E-Commerce Chief Leaves
These days, you practically need a scorecard to keep up with all the changes in the c-suite at Target (TGT).
The latest departure? Jason Goldberger, the discount retailer’s chief digital officer, left on Friday, “effective immediately,” a big surprise considering he had been promoted only four months before. Goldberger was responsible for Target’s e-commerce, whose growth had lagged recently, as well as its pricing and promotional strategy. Those responsibilities will be now split between Mike McNamara, chief information officer, and Mark Tritton, chief merchant.
The goal for Target is “to provide clear accountability and speed up decision making,” CEO Brian Cornell said in a statement, adding that the move is designed to make “immediate gains” in addressing Target’s pricing and promotion issues. In its most recent quarter, Target reported a 1.1% drop in comparable sales (the first decline in nearly two years) and lowered its full-year forecast. In contrast, Walmart (WMT), which has been spending billions on “price investments”–reductions, in plain English–saw its results rise.
At Target’s national fall meeting earlier this month, Cornell told Fortune that the company had gone too far in its messaging in the direction of stylish, hip wares and too far away from letting consumers know about low prices. That’s a problem for what is, after all, a discount general merchandiser, cheap-chic products aside. So Target is redoubling its messaging, in stores and in its marketing materials, to emphasize its low price.
“‘Expect more’ and ‘Pay less’ both have to work together,” Cornell said in that recent interview, referring to the retailer’s slogan. “We lost a bit of that balance, and now we’ve got to get back.”
In that context, Goldberger’s departure makes sense. E-commerce growth has significantly slowed- digital sales rose 16% last quarter, a far cry from the 30% clip for all of 2015, let alone the 40% annual growth Cornell was forecasting a year and a half ago.
Executives crow that Target’s e-commerce is growing more quickly than the industry, but at $2.6 billion over the last 12 months, according to eMarketer, digital sales are on par with those of Gap Inc (GPS) and Kohl’s (KSS), much smaller retailers. To Goldberger’s credit, target.com is much easier to navigate now and looks the same across devices, fixing a problem that had annoyed customers for years. (Cornell himself touted those improvements in the Fortune interview.)
Still, the departure by Goldberger, a former Amazon and Gilt.com executive, is just one of spate of major changes at the highest echelons of Target that could be disruptive at tough time. Just last month, Target’s star marketing chief, Jeff Jones, left to take a top job at Uber. (Target’s holiday season marketing plan was in place prior to Jones’s departure, the company says.)
Going back a year and a half, there have many other changes on the 26th floor of Target’s Minneapolis headquarters, so much so that the c-suite has been turned over almost entirely:
- CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER: Target is undertaking a search to replace Jones.
- CHIEF LEGAL OFFICER & GENERAL COUNSEL: Don Liu took the job last month, overseeing all legal, corporate governance and government affairs matters, and replacing Tim Baer, a 23-year veteran of the company who will leave Target entirely next year.
- CHIEF MERCHANT: In June, Target appointed Mark Tritton to be chief merchant, filling a crucial job that had been vacant for a year. Tritton is a seasoned, respected former Nike (NKE) and Nordstrom (JWN) executive, but has no experience to speak of in key categories like food and electronics, two weak points of late for Target.
- CHIEF HUMAN RESOURCES OFFICER: Longtime Target employee Stephanie Lundquist took the post in February, replacing Jodee Kozla, a 15-year veteran who among other things had played a central role during Target’s data breach crisis nearly three years ago.
- CHIEF STORES OFFICER: Janna Potts, with the company since 1989, took responsibility in early 2016 for Target’s 1,800 stores, replacing longtime stores boss Tina Tyler.
- CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER: This job was created in August 2015 to address one of Target’s chronic bêtes noires: popular items going out of stock. Cornell tapped then-CFO John Mulligan to fill the new job, replacing him with outsider Cathy Smith, previously a CFO at such companies as pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts (ESRX) and Walmart International.
- CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER: In early 2015, Cornell hired former Tesco executive Mike McNamara to be its CIO, primarily to shore up Target’s cyber-defenses. McNamara replaced an executive who’d been in the job for a year.
The bottom line? Of Cornell’s 10-member leadership team, only two were in the c-suite when he arrived in August 2014: Mulligan and Laysha Ward, who as chief corporate social responsibility officer is the only top executive who still holds the position she had when Cornell joined.
Even though it’s perfectly normal for a new CEO to change a company’s brass, the turnover at Target is unusually high. That’s a lot of change to manage at a very difficult time, especially as the make-or-break holiday season is almost upon us.
But Cornell doesn’t see a problem. “We’ve brought in some great talent and we elevated talent from within,” he says.