Target Corp. chief executive Brian Cornell now has his A-team in place.
The final pieces came together Tuesday with the announcement he hired Mark Tritton, a senior executive at Nordstrom Inc., to be Target’s next chief merchandising officer, ending a search that took nearly a year.
The position is a key one for the Minneapolis-based retailer whose brand reputation is built around its cheap-chic offerings. But in recent years, the company had lost some ground to fast-fashion retailers and others in terms of its style edge. So a big part of Tritton’s task will be in helping Target reclaim its Tar-zhay mantle by being the company’s chief arbiter of style.
He will do so by overseeing Target’s buying, product design and development, sourcing, and store displays. He will also be in charge of Target’s grocery department, which is in the midst of a multiyear transformation. He starts June 5.
“It’s probably the most important role” aside from chief executive, said Brian Yarbrough, a retail analyst for Edward Jones. “If you don’t have the right merchandise, you’re not going to have the traffic to drive sales.”
Target also said Tuesday that Jason Goldberger, president of Target.com, will join the retailer’s C-Suite in the newly created position of chief digital officer.
Goldberger, who came to Target three years ago after working at Gilt Groupe and Amazon.com, will take on some of the digital responsibilities that previously fell under the chief merchant position.
With these two appointments, Cornell has filled all of the major holes in his senior leadership team with an equal mix of external and internal hires. Of the 12 executives who now report directly to him, four were hired from outside the company and four others were promoted from inside. Among the other prominent recruits to his team are Mike McNamara, who was lured from British grocer Tesco to be chief information officer, and Cathy Smith, who came from Express Scripts to be the finance chief.
Cornell, who was hired as Target’s first outside CEO in August 2014, didn’t make many senior leadership changes when he first arrived. Instead, he made other major moves, shutting down Target’s struggling stores in Canada last year and restructuring its corporate headquarters through significant layoffs. The reshaping of his executive team came later and more slowly.
The chief merchant position was one that Cornell took the most time to fill, a sign of both the difficulty in finding good candidates for the role and the importance of the job. Target changed search firms during the process. While the position was vacant, the merchandising team reported directly to Cornell.
Tritton, 52, a native of Australia, was most recently executive vice president and president of Nordstrom Product Group, where he oversaw the company’s private-label brands for both its full-price and off-price Rack divisions. Before that, he held executive positions at Timberland and Nike.
A Target spokesman said the company was impressed by how Tritton helped Nordstrom double its private-label business while also being disciplined in paring back its number of brands from 88 to about 50, showing a high level of prioritization that Target is also trying to bring to its business. While at Nordstrom, Tritton also oversaw the launch of new brands including Treasure & Bond, which gives 5 percent of its profits to nonprofits aimed at empowering women and girls.
“It’s a pretty big deal to bring someone over from Nordstrom,” said Yarbrough. While Nordstrom has struggled more recently, it’s been among the strongest performers in the retail sector since the Great Recession and has a good reputation for style.
Target has a significant private-label portfolio with 10 in-house brands that produce at least $1 billion in annual sales, including Merona apparel, Archer Farms foods and Threshold home goods.
While the chief merchant post has been open for nearly a year, the retailer has still made a number of strategic moves in this area. It launched a new kids home brand called Pillowfort earlier this year and will roll out a new children’s apparel brand called Cat & Jack this summer to replace longtime licensed brand Cherokee.
Tritton succeeds Kathee Tesija, a Target veteran who spent seven years in the top merchandising role. At the time, she was seen as the company’s de facto No. 2 and a top candidate to be CEO until the company tapped Cornell instead. Last June, Target announced that Tesija was relinquishing her position. She stayed on as an adviser at Target through March and recently joined Simpactful, a San Francisco consulting firm that focuses on retail and consumer packaged goods. She remains based in the Twin Cities.
After Tesija stepped aside, Cornell decided to slice away some of the responsibilities of the chief merchant. In addition to handing the digital work to Goldberger, he created a chief operating officer role to handle suppliers and operations, a job taken by longtime Target executive John Mulligan.
Tritton, who was in town on Tuesday at Target’s headquarters, will move to Minneapolis with his wife this summer. He also has three adult children.
“You have to move quickly in retail, or you risk being left behind,” he said in an interview on Target’s corporate site. “But my first priority when I get to Target is actually to go a bit slower. Target has a clear strategy in place, and that strategy is working, and there’s no shortage of talent at the company. So my first task is to listen and learn. Then, it’s off to the races.”