Target Corp. said Tuesday that John Griffith, a veteran member of its executive team, will retire on May 31.
The impending departure of Griffith, 52, as executive vice president of property development comes as the Minneapolis-based retailer retools its leadership slate following the firing of Chairman and CEO Gregg Steinhafel this month. News of Griffith’s retirement Tuesday was made separately from an announcement that Tony Fisher was leaving immediately as president of the company’s challenged Canadian operations.
In an interview, Griffith said the timing was right for him to step down. “I feel like the team we built here at Target is second to none, so I feel good about them moving forward. I’m still a young man and want to do different things.”
A long-standing member of the Twin Cities commercial real estate community, Griffith said he will continue to volunteer for a number of civic projects, particularly those promoting downtown Minneapolis. In retirement, Griffith will serve as a consultant on Target’s engagement with economic development organizations in the Minneapolis area.
Griffith says he got involved in these efforts “because the downtown is where our headquarters is and we felt like it was so important to make sure team members had ... a clean, safe downtown with great transportation, cultural amenities and entertainment.”
As the Vikings stadium debate played out at the Capitol in 2012, Griffith played a key role, publicly and behind the scenes, in helping to lure the $1 billion project to downtown Minneapolis. He now serves on the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the public body overseeing construction of the stadium on the site where the Metrodome once stood.
He also chaired the effort behind the Minneapolis Downtown Council’s 2025 Plan — an ambitious blueprint released in 2011 that called for doubling downtown’s residential population to 70,000, creating a stadium district and increasing green space, among other goals. Other urban projects he’s been involved with include the $50 million overhaul of Nicollet Mall, which just received $21.5 million in state bonding money.
John Mulligan, Target’s interim president and CEO, said in a statement, “The energy and enthusiasm [Griffith] brought to his role helped Target expand our geographic footprint and create new store formats. Not only did John leave an impact on Target but his passion for the Twin Cities and dedication to the preservation and enhancement of downtown Minneapolis will be felt for years to come.”
Griffith joined Target from Ryan Cos., the Minneapolis-based real estate firm, in 1999. The two companies have enjoyed a close relationship dating back to 1966, when Ryan built the fourth Target store in Bloomington, with many more stores following in ensuing years.
While at Ryan, Griffith was involved with the development of the publicly subsidized Target store at 9th Street and Nicollet Mall, considered a prototype for other urban Target stores.
During his 15 years with Target, Griffith worked on new store prototypes and formats including PFresh, CityTarget and Target Express, as well as headquarters buildings worldwide, including those in India and Canada. When he joined Target, the cheap-chic discounter had 912 stores; the company now has more than 1,900 in the United States and Canada.
Sean Naughton, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, noted that Griffith has led Target’s real estate development for many years and has had a successful career with the company. But these days, with fewer places to grow in the United States and with no immediate plans for more international expansion outside Canada, Target is not as much of a real estate company as it used to be. Instead, it is focusing more on driving same-store sales, he said.
Because of the timing of the announcement, Griffith’s departure may be viewed as part of the retailer’s strategic shift.
“But I think it’s more of a function of ‘Yes, there’s still going to be real estate opportunities to selectively open up new doors with CityTargets and Target Express, but it’s not going to be the same type of effort that the company has been spearheading in terms of store expansion,’ ” he said.
When asked whether the prospect of a new CEO taking over was part of his consideration to retire, Griffith said, “That person will want to pick his own team, and that’s totally appropriate.”
The Colorado native said he will spend more time with his wife, Lisa, and three children, as well as biking and fly-fishing.
In an internal memo to employees, Griffith said, ”Target is a special place, filled with special people. Love what you do and love each other. I will be cheering you on from the sidelines.”
Staff writer Kavita Kumar contributed to this report.