Target’s Gregg Steinhafel Grilled at Annual Meeting

Company's ceo found himself fielding question after question about the political donation to Minnesota Forward.

Gregg W. Steinhafel, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Target Corp., had a rough ride Wednesday at the retailer’s annual general meeting in Pittsburgh.

This story first appeared in the June 9, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

While the retailer’s numbers continue to be strong and Steinhafel revealed that plans to open stores in Canada were ahead of schedule and profits for the Canadian units would be higher than expected, shareholders were more focused on the company’s $150,000 donation last year using shareholder money to Minnesota Forward, a political group supporting the election of gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who opposes same-sex-marriage rights. Even Target’s largest single charitable commitment in its history — $1 billion for education by the end of 2015 — seemed to get lost in the shuffle. Steinhafel found himself fielding question after question about the political donation, sounding embattled and annoyed.

“Following last fall’s election cycles, we created a policy committee to ensure Target considers a broad range of [perspectives] before engaging in political activity,” the chairman explained.

“Fill us in on the thinking of why Emmer’s positions weren’t thoroughly researched,” said a shareholder. “I don’t understand how you could have such an enormous blind spot.”

“Out of respect for the balance of the shareholders, I think we’ve sufficiently addressed that topic,” Steinhafel said. “We listened, we evolved, we have the right processes. Does anybody have a question related to our business that’s not related to political giving? I’d love to hear a question related to something else.”

Target is coming under more scrutiny these days. For years, the company enjoyed relatively little attention on the labor front, while competitor Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was the target of unions, activists and politicians. On June 17, some 250 employees at the Target in Valley Stream, N.Y., will vote to unionize. It the effort passes, it will be a step toward unionizing about 5,000 Target employees in New York City.

Steinhafel did talk business, though. Several proprietary brands have been reinvented, including Room Essentials in home and Circle in children’s and the redesigned home, beauty, shoe, electronics and video game departments have been well-received by consumers, Steinhafel said.

City Target, a small urban format, will open stores next year in Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. The annual meeting was held in a two-level City Target set to open in July in East Liberty—– the first Target unit within Pittsburgh city limits.

Target plans to exceed the $100 billion sales mark in the next six years, a figure Steinhafel has mentioned before. The board approved a 30 cent quarterly dividend, payable Sept. 10.