Brian Cornell, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Target Corporation.
Anjali Sundaram | CNBC
When George Floyd was killed a year ago, Target CEO Brian Cornell said he was shocked by the murder. He was concerned that it had happened so close to the company’s headquarters in his hometown.
For the retail manager, it felt personal.
“It could have been one of my Target team members,” he said, sharing his thoughts as he watched the video of Floyd taking his final breaths.
Cornell drew the curtain back on Tuesday on the Minneapolis-based retailer’s response to the murder and how it was led to step up its own corporate diversity and equity efforts. He spoke in an extensive interview with former CEO of Ulta Beauty, Mary Dillon, which was hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago. The event, originally scheduled for last Tuesday, was postponed on the same day ahead of the verdict in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin was found guilty of all three charges of Floyd’s murder.
As a young boy, Cornell grew up in a diverse neighborhood in Queens, New York and was raised by a single mother. As an adult, he and his family lived in Asia and Europe. These personal experiences inspired his respect for women as leaders and the importance of cultural diversity, he said.
Still, he said Floyd’s murder stood apart and forced him to do more.
“I realize that it is time to take it to another level and that we as CEOs need to be the leaders of the diversity and inclusion company,” he said. “We have to be the role models driving change and our voice is important. And we have to make sure that we represent our company principles, our values and our corporate purpose in the topics that are important to our teams.”
In May of last year, in the days that followed, Cornell said Target had put together a special committee to review what steps the company could take to make its workforce, C-suite and business practices better reflect the diversity of the country. He said Target has considered how it can support and promote black workers, play a role in communities, and “use our voice at the national level in influencing citizen debates and policies.”
Target is one of many companies that have pledged to do more to promote racial justice after Floyd’s murder sparked protests in major cities and around the world. Among its commitments, the big box retailer said it would increase black employee representation in its workforce by 20% over the next year. The company has developed a new program that allows black entrepreneurs to develop, test, and scale products to sell at mass retailers like Target. And it promised to spend more than $ 2 billion by 2025 on black-owned companies, from construction companies building or remodeling businesses to advertising firms marketing their brand.
Cornell noted the diversity of Target’s 350,000+ employees, including the board of directors and the executive team. More than half of its 1,900 or so businesses are run by female directors and over a third by black people, Cornell said.
He said he wanted the retailer to be a leader and was particularly aware during the trial last week that “the eyes of America and the eyes of the world were on Minneapolis”.
“For so many of us, this judgment was a sign of progress, a sign of accountability, but also an acknowledgment that the work is just beginning,” he said.