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Target CEO Ulrich to Retire in May

As sales trends slow and share value falls, Target Corp. said Wednesday that chief executive officer Robert Ulrich will retire May 1 and be succeeded by company president Gregg Steinhafel.

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There has been mounting pressure for change from activist hedge fund firm Pershing Square Capital Management, which has accumulated an almost 10 percent ownership interest in the discounter, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Dec. 21.

"Gregg Steinhafel has really been the heir apparent for a long time....Target promotes insiders,'' said Isaac Lagnado, president of Tactical Retail Solutions. "They like people they have tested and know."

Lagnado credited the Ulrich-Steinhafel team with effectively pulling off the cheap-chic approach in both fashion and home goods, "as opposed to competitors that have talked about it a lot but never have been able to get it right."

However, the two men have different styles, experts said. Ulrich has been pointedly low-profile and Steinhafel may be more out front.

Ulrich's departure as ceo marks the final bow in one of the more enduring and successful runs for a ceo of a major chain, with far more ups than downs.

Under Ulrich, "Target has been a unique success story," said a senior executive search official who requested anonymity. "He created a bunker mentality, an insulated culture that has been successful in retaining talent."

The retiring ceo began his career as a merchandising trainee in 1967 at Dayton's, a former division of Target Corp. Ulrich subsequently held a variety of positions in stores and merchandising. He was named president of Target Stores in 1984 and became chairman and ceo of the division in 1987.

Ulrich was named chairman and ceo of the corporation in 1994. Under his leadership, Target has almost tripled its sales and U.S. store presence, increased its net earnings nearly ninefold and has become one of the most recognized brands in retail.

"The board has tremendous respect for Bob's exceptional leadership and the remarkable performance Target has achieved under his direction,'' Jim Johnson, vice chairman of the executive committee of the board, said in a statement. "His skill and integrity have created a highly successful organization and talented executive team that are admired throughout the retail industry. We are completely confident in Gregg's ability to continue this legacy."

Steinhafel said in a statement, "I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from one of the best leaders in the retail industry, and I look forward to building on the company's success by continuing to create substantial value for our guests, our team members, our shareholders and our communities."
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