Today, Target CEO Brian Cornell signed on as the Retail Industry Leader’s Association (RILA)’s chairman for 2018 and 2019. It’s a big honor—RILA is a leading trade association that helps advance the retail industry through educational forums and public policy advocacy, and its board includes leaders from companies from across the country. A longtime partner of Target, RILA was instrumental in bringing retailers together to lobby against the border adjustment tax last year. We asked Brian what he’s most looking forward to in the new role.
As you kick off this new two-year role, what will your focus be?
After nearly three years on the RILA board, what’s made the greatest impression on me is that, when we work together as leaders of the 42 million American people who make up the retail industry, we have an incredibly powerful voice to advocate for our customers, our teams and our communities.
Without a doubt, the battle over the border adjustment tax was unprecedented, and it showed us that there’s an opportunity for more retailers to engage in public policy on an ongoing basis and advance our common agenda. But the opportunities for collaboration extend well beyond Washington, and my goals include working together to support the retail industry’s transformation and create a more diverse and inclusive next generation of retail leaders.
Retail is changing at a rapid pace. How are you taking that into account as you move into this role?
We’re coming off a year of “retail apocalypse” headlines—2017 was a difficult year for our industry in many respects. Some once-great brands disappeared, and we saw record store closures and layoffs at levels not seen since the great recession. But, I can assure you, retail is anything but dead. The numbers are in, and this holiday season was one of the strongest in years. People all over the world still love to shop, and that’s not likely to change. Consumer preferences and shopping behaviors continue to evolve and we’re moving fast to respond and anticipate what’s next. Our job is to create more new and exciting ways to elevate the experience in this digital era.
RILA’s (R)Tech Center for Innovation is a great example of how this is happening. It’s all about demonstrating to entrepreneurs, investors and venture capitalists that there is a sizeable market for people and companies who want to develop new tools and applications, services and technology to support our industry. Things like innovating AI applications for Assets Protection, more advanced scheduling technology for hourly workers, tools to promote transparency in our supply chains, and new services that bridge the physical and digital experiences. The work RILA has already done in this area is tremendous, and as we move forward, the sky’s the limit on where we can go.
How do you hope to set the stage for future leaders?
Just as consumer shopping habits continue to change and evolve, so do their demographics. As retailers, we know how important it is for our teams to reflect the people who shop with us—from diversity in gender, ethnicity and race to including a broad range of cultural perspectives. That’s the only way any of us will truly understand our customers and be ready to meet their needs.
At Target, we’ve been intensely focused on this, starting with our board and the leaders at the very top of our organization. While I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, we still have lot of work to do. But this is not a challenge we can solve all on our own. To effect meaningful change, it will take the full industry—making the most of the resources available through RILA and within our own companies, and prioritizing hiring, training and leadership development opportunities. Building the next generation of leaders in retail, from store teams to CEOs and everyone in between, will be an important step in ensuring the nimbleness and vitality of our industry now and in the future.
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