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Target’s Brian Cornell: ‘It’s one of the most emotional moments I’ve had as CEO’

Holiday visit by Brian Cornell to Target House at
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

In December, Target CEO Brian Cornell visited Target House, a no-cost home-away-from-home for families that need long-term housing while a child receives live-saving treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

“We hosted a winter carnival filled with spaces for play and imagination, where families could take some time away from their daily challenges and simply enjoy being together,” Cornell said.

“It’s one of the most emotional moments I’ve had as CEO.”

The visit “brings to life the 5 percent that Target gives back to communities,” Cornell said of the company’s 60-year commitment to giving 5 percent of its profits – now about $4 million per week – back to communities.

Target’s giving is legendary. Here are just a few examples:

  • In 2010, the company pledged to give $1 billion to education by 2015, a goal it reached last August.
  • In 2014 and 2015, Target sponsored two groundbreaking studies -- Don’t Call Them Dropouts and Don’t Quit on Me – that changed people’s perspectives on why young people drop out of high school and the power of relationships to bring them back.
  • In 2015, Target partnered with comedian Ellen DeGeneres for the “Thanks a Billion” campaign, which inspired thousands of people to publicly thank their teachers on social media and triggered $6 million in Target donations to schools in just six days.
  • An ongoing program, the Target Meals for Minds program brings food to K-12 students and families in need. Now active in 66 schools in 44 cities across the country, and powered by a partnership with Feeding America and local food banks, the program offers students access to fresh foods and staples right at their own schools.

On April 20, Cornell will receive the Promise of America award from America’s Promise Alliance for all that Target has done to improve the lives of children and youth.

From Education to Health and Wellness

Last year, Target announced that its corporate social responsibility strategy will include a stronger emphasis on wellness.

“Just as we selected our focus on education based on feedback from our guests, we know our guests today are increasingly prioritizing wellness and making better choices for themselves, their families and communities,” Cornell said.

“Through this shift in strategy, we’re focused on providing wellness solutions for our guests, team members and communities where they live, learn, work and play,” he added. “We’re going to have a full range of partnerships and programs dedicated to wellness that build on our legacy of work in education, sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and addressing community needs.”

Lessons Learned Along the Way

Even though he’s CEO of one of the world’s largest retailers, Cornell is known for being resilient and relatable. He lost his father at a young age and was raised by his mother and grandparents. He worked a series of odd jobs as a kid—shoveling snow, mowing lawns— and paid his own way through college at UCLA by working retail and coaching high school football.

As a teenager, Cornell washed trucks at a Tropicana distribution center. Two decades later, he became Tropicana’s president. “I will never forget what I learned in those early days, from washing trucks to coaching football, stocking shelves to taking care of customers, those experiences helped to shape who I am today,” he said.

Decades later, at the winter carnival at Target House, Cornell spoke with parents and watched patients have the opportunity make ornaments, get their faces painted, take photos with a giant Etch-a-Sketch and race droids.

“The importance of giving and the role that Target plays in improving the lives of the guests we serve must always be part of our foundational beliefs,” he said.