Mark Tritton — who in his three years as chief merchant helped Target regain its edge in style with a well-regarded overhaul of its private-label brands — is leaving the company to become CEO of Bed Bath & Beyond.
The Minneapolis-based retailer announced Tritton’s departure Wednesday afternoon as well as the internal promotion of Michael Fiddelke to become its next chief financial officer, replacing Cathy Smith, who had previously announced her retirement.
Tritton came to Target from Nordstrom after CEO Brian Cornell spent more than a year searching for a new chief merchandising officer. The chief-merchant role is typically the No. 2 role at a retailer and has special prominence at Target, which is known for its cheap-chic offerings.
At the time of Tritton’s hiring, many retail analysts felt Target had lost its flair, and its sales were beginning to droop.
Under his leadership, Target has launched more than two dozen new private-label brands in the past two years, replacing many of its older longtime brands such as Mossimo and Merona. Some examples include Goodfellow & Co. in men’s clothing, Project 62 and Opalhouse in home, Heyday in electronics accessories, as well as new swimwear and lingerie brands.
Tritton also helped draw in outside brands such as Hunter boots, Vineyard Vines and Victoria Beckham to collaborate with Target on its hallmark limited-time design partnerships.
The new brands, as well as efforts to remodel stores and to improve digital offerings, have helped propel Target to robust sales growth at a time when department stores and some other retailers are struggling.
“He’s been very instrumental in the turnaround that’s happened in the last few years,” said Brian Yarbrough, an analyst with Edward Jones. “About a year after he came on board, it seemed like things got better for Target, so this is definitely a loss.”
Retailers work quite far in advance, Yarbrough said, so Target’s plans for the holiday season already are set and likely for the spring, too.
Target said it will not search for a new chief merchant at this time. Instead, two current executives — Christina Hennington and Jill Sando — will assume interim leadership of the merchandising organization. They both took on expanded responsibilities in January when they became senior vice presidents and general-merchandising managers.
“As we head into the holiday season and beyond, Christina and Jill are well positioned to lead our merchandising organization given their strong business acumen and extensive experience driving ambitious and successful merchandising strategies,” Cornell said in a statement.
Hennington, who has been with Target since 2003, oversees essentials, beauty, hardlines and services and will assume responsibility of merchandise planning and capabilities. Sando, who has been with Target since 1997, is in charge of apparel, accessories and home and also will now oversee brand sourcing, design and brand management.
Yarbrough said he expects Target will eventually hire a new chief merchant or promote one of these two executives to the position.
“These dual structures don’t tend to work longer term,” he said.
While Tritton can rightfully take credit for some of Target’s recent success, retail consultant Carol Spieckerman said the good news for Target is that it is not as dependent on a handful of key executives as it used to be.
“Target in the past was very much a star culture,” she said. “They had these high-powered leaders presiding over their fiefdoms. A lot of that has been tempered under Brian Cornell to where there is more of a team spirit to the extent that [Tritton’s] departure is not going to leave a big gaping hole. They’ve developed other leadership that should be able to take over the baton.”
Tritton has a challenge ahead of him at Bed Bath & Beyond, which has been struggling with falling sales and has been closing stores. Shares of Bed Bath & Beyond jumped 22% in aftermarket trading following the announcement of his appointment.
Meanwhile, Fiddelke, Target’s newly appointed chief financial officer, will begin in the role on Nov. 1. Smith, the current CFO, will serve as a strategic adviser until May 1 to help with the transition. Fiddelke has been at Target for more than 15 years, most recently serving as senior vice president of operations.
The company considered both internal and external candidates for the position.
“After concluding an extensive global search, it’s clear that Michael is the right leader for this role,” said Cornell. “With his engineering training and his deep financial experience, Michael is extremely talented at diagnosing and solving complex organizational challenges and driving business results. He is respected as a highly collaborative business partner and will bring a modern approach to financial and enterprise leadership for Target.”