Target Corporation. The Dales, starting with the nation’s first enclosed mall, Southdale. Nicollet Mall and a still-vibrant downtown. Fairview Southdale Hospital. A nation-leading standard of corporate professionalism and philanthropy. For all that and more, Minnesota owes a debt of gratitude to five Dayton brothers, the last of whom, Bruce Bliss Dayton, died Friday at age 97.
Bruce Dayton’s solo legacy is rich, too. He was the patriarch of a civic-minded family whose eldest son is Gov. Mark Dayton. He was the pre-eminent patron of the Minneapolis Institute of Art and was hailed by the New York Times in 2009 as the nation’s dean of corporate arts philanthropy. Among the generation that came home from World War II to build the modern Minnesota, Bruce Dayton was a leading architect.
A modest and private man, Dayton would surely deflect credit for his accomplishments to his four brothers and others, including his grandfather, Worthington banker and Dayton’s department store founder George Draper Dayton, and his parents, Nelson and Grace Dayton. But when Nelson fell ill in 1946 and died in 1950, Bruce — the second eldest — and his brothers, all under age 36, took charge of the family’s single department store and adjacent jeweler. The nation’s largest retailer at the time, Sears, Roebuck, was 40 times larger.
Bruce held various corporate posts, including chairman of the board. But “he did practically the same thing for 43 years — always he was treasurer, even when he was president/CEO,” he wrote of himself in his 2008 memoir, “The Birth of Target.” As the team’s all-important finance man, he was a key player in expansion decisions through four decades that built what today is the nation’s second-largest retailer. Along with his more visible brother Kenneth, Bruce was the last family member to retire from corporate governance in 1983, when today’s Target Corp. was still known as Dayton Hudson Corp.
His willingness to manage finances also cemented his connection to the Minneapolis Institute of Art. As a young man just out of military service, Dayton was mentored by MIA’s first major patron, Alfred Pillsbury, and recruited as board treasurer because other board members wintered in warmer climes. Dayton remained an MIA life trustee at the time of his death; his total gifts to the institute are estimated to exceed $80 million.
In his memoir, Bruce the business insider pointed to four principles as key to the family’s business success — “professional management, organizational surplus, good governance and philanthropy.” From our external vantage, we see more: Family unity. A commitment to selling quality merchandise at a fair price. Excellence in customer service. Abiding loyalty to Minnesota, and an infectious vision of this state’s potential for greatness. All of those Dayton values served this state well and live on today.