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Meet Brian Cornell, CEO of Target – speaker at virtual Good Leadership Breakfast

How does anyone rise to the responsibility of  CEO at a Fortune 50 company? The answer is reasonably simple: by learning how to help people thrive together in teams. As the CEO of Target, Brian Cornell is a team-leader extraordinaire – a leader of a team of teams, of teams of teams. “I see goodness when I look into the eyes of our team members in the stores, who know how to create joy in the lives of our guests,” Cornell explained.

Brian Cornell was the speaker at the Good Leadership Breakfast recorded last Friday virtually, with a small audience of sponsors and ticket holders from the original event scheduled for May of this year. You can watch a tightly-edited version here. And the people depending on Feeding America will appreciate you contributing to the Bucket of Goodwill online – the world needs good leaders like you to give, and give and give!

Following is short summary to help us all get to know Brian Cornell:

My first job was…I learned from a young age the importance of a strong work ethic. I started working as a kid, shoveling a lot of snow and mowing many lawns. As a teenager, I got a job washing trucks at the Tropicana distribution center in Queens, NY. A few decades later I became President of Tropicana International.

The leader I admire most is…I have been fortunate to work with and get to know many excellent leaders over the years. At Tropicana, I worked with then-CEO Ellen Marram at a time when it was rare to see women in CEO positions. Watching her navigate that environment fueled my commitment to advancing women in leadership. I greatly admire Ken Langone for his leadership and am proud to call him a mentor and a friend. We share a focus on taking care of our teams, making guest service a differentiator, and giving back to the communities we serve.

I am surrounded by an amazing leadership team at Target. During the last nine months, we’ve met more frequently as a full group than ever before. I continue to be impressed by their compassion, energy, and dedication to our guests and team.

My favorite quote is…I am a longtime admirer of John Wooden, arguably the greatest NCAA basketball head coach of all time. His Pyramid of Success is a road map to achieving your dreams and becoming an even better person. A quote of his that really resonates with me is: “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

Looking back, what was the most important pivot point/change in direction in your career that shaped who you are today?… I coached high school football while I was in college at UCLA. My junior year, the head football coach asked me what I wanted to do after graduation. I told him I was thinking about becoming a teacher and a football coach. His response was to ask me if I knew how to paint or lay carpet. I was puzzled until he explained that most people coaching at the high school level had to find extra jobs during the summer and on weekends just make ends meet. Having struggled economically most of my life, I decided to take a different path.

The leadership skills I’d learned as a coach – motivating others to overcome challenges, planning, personal development – were immediately transferable to the business world. As CEO of Target, I get to be a different kind of coach as I develop talent across the team.

A passion of mine that not many people know is… Actually, I think it’s pretty well known throughout Target how much I enjoy spending time with our teams to keep a pulse on what’s happening in every corner of the business and what we’re hearing from our guests. Even during the pandemic, my best days are still the ones when I’m out in our stores hearing from our team or catching up with teams virtually via Zoom.

My favorite band/singer growing up was… I’ve always been a Bruce Springsteen fan. I thought his book was great, and I loved the Broadway show. I’m enjoying the latest record with the E Street Band, and the new documentary is on my shortlist.

If I could have coffee with anyone, who would it be, and where?… These days, nothing beats time with my family. Though they’re a bit young for coffee, I’d have to choose an afternoon visit with all three of my grandchildren.

My favorite weekend activity is…. I’ll go back to family time. My wife Martha and I love taking long walks and being with our kids and grandkids.

My best coronavirus lockdown tip is… Pace yourself and prioritize where you spend your time. It’s good advice in any environment but particularly now as our country grapples with so many difficult challenges.

I see goodness around me when…When I look at the Target team. It’s humbling and inspiring to watch our team’s resilience and I’m grateful for the essential role they play for our guests during this crisis while also taking care of themselves and their families. Target’s team is the heart and soul of our company and the reason I’m so confident in our future.


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