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Target’s CEO Search: It’s Complicated

Retail experts say there’s a limited talent pool due to retail consolidation and lack of retail innovation and that the retailer has specific needs.

Finding a new Target Corp. chief executive officer won’t be quick or easy: It’s a complicated assignment, requiring someone who knows a thing or two about reinventing a brand and cleaning up past mistakes.

Search executives and retail experts say there’s a limited talent pool due to retail consolidation and lack of retail innovation and that Target has specific needs.

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“Scale isn’t everything. It’s really complexity,” said Karen Harvey, founder and ceo of Karen Harvey Consulting Group. She suggested Vittorio Radice, who reinvented Selfridges in London and Rinascente in Italy, as someone Target should check out. “Even though he’s never done mass, Vittorio is an adventurer. He’s a master at reinventing.”

The Target ceo search is further complicated by J.C. Penney Co. Inc., The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. and American Eagle Outfitters Inc. also looking for ceo’s in an industry where there is a limited pool of experienced and talented individuals who could manage a business as big as Target’s. J.C. Penney is another tough search, considering its future turnaround seems uncertain and ceo Myron “Mike” Ullman 3rd is believed to be seeking someone who would work alongside him during a transition period.

Bon-Ton is also seeking a ceo to succeed Brendan Hoffman, but Bon-Ton is much smaller than Target or Penney’s and could consider candidates that wouldn’t necessarily be from the same field that Penney’s and Target select from.

“To bring some level [of] confidence back to shareholders and consumers, Target is really going to have to bring someone from the outside” its own ranks, said Kathy Gersch, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Kotter International consulting. “They need somebody that really can take this opportunity to move quickly and accelerate this transformation. They can’t afford a slow, methodical approach. Target needs someone who understands the consumer market. They need to change the customer experience and get those in their organization who deal with customers, whether they work in the credit department, with the online business or in stores, more engaged to win back customers. The board must also come together to articulate what they see as the future for Target and paint the picture for prospective ceo candidates.”

“They need a merchant who can lead a very large, complicated company, as opposed to someone who would come on board and learn,” said another retail expert. “It appears there was no viable succession planning.”

“In retail, a couple of bad years and you’re out. These companies change their people like baseball managers,” said John Challenger, ceo of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. “You would think that a top priority for Target would [be wanting] to find a ceo who has the background to reassure their shareholders, their customers and the markets that he or she can clean that data breach problem up, and that will never happen again, but Target was facing tremendous pressure before this happened.”