Target CEO Brian Cornell says George Floyd's murder pushed him to do more about racial equity, diversity

  • Target CEO Brian Cornell said George Floyd's murder, which took place not far from the company's headquarters, felt personal.
  • "That could have been one of my Target team members," he said, recounting his thoughts as he watched the video of Floyd taking his final breaths.
  • The retail chief spoke Tuesday at a virtual event hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago.

When George Floyd was killed a year ago, Target CEO Brian Cornell said he was shaken by the murder. He was troubled it happened so close to the company's headquarters in its hometown.

For the retail chief, it felt personal.

"That could have been one of my Target team members," he said, recounting his thoughts as he watched the video of Floyd taking his final breaths.

Cornell pulled back the curtain Tuesday on the Minneapolis-based retailer's response to the murder and how it pushed him to step up the company's own diversity and equity efforts. He spoke in a wide-ranging interview with former Ulta Beauty CEO Mary Dillon, which was hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago. The event, originally scheduled for last Tuesday, was postponed ahead of the verdict in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on the same day. Chauvin was found guilty on all three charges in the murder of Floyd.

As a young boy, Cornell grew up in a diverse neighborhood of Queens, New York, and was raised by a single mom. As an adult, he and his family lived in Asia and Europe. Those personal experiences inspired his respect for women as leaders and the importance of cultural diversity, he said.

Yet he said Floyd's murder stood apart and compelled him to do more.

"I recognize that it's time to take it to another level, and that as CEOs, we have to be the company's head of diversity and inclusion," he said. "We have to be the role models that drive change and our voice is important. And we've got to make sure that we represent our company principles, our values, our company purpose on the issues that are important to our teams."

Last May, in the days that immediately followed, Cornell said Target put together a special committee to look at steps the company could take to make its workforce, C-suite and business practices better reflect the country's diversity. He said Target considered how it could support and provide advancement opportunities for Black employees, play a role in communities and "use our voice on a national level, as we impact civic discussions and policy."

Target is one of many companies that have pledged to do more to advance racial equity after Floyd's murder prompted protests in major cities and across the globe. Among its commitments, the big-box retailer said it would increase representation of Black employees across its workforce by 20% over the next year. The company created a new program to help Black entrepreneurs develop, test and scale products to sell at mass retailers like Target. And it promised to spend more than $2 billion with Black-owned businesses by 2025, from construction companies that build or remodel stores to advertising firms that market its brand.

Cornell touted the diversity of Target's workforce of more than 350,000 employees, including its board and leadership team. Over half of its approximately 1,900 stores are led by female store directors and over a third are led by people of color, Cornell said.

He said he wants the retailer to be a leader and was particularly aware last week during the trial's verdict that "the eyes of America, and the eyes of the world were on Minneapolis."

"For so many of us, we saw that verdict as a sign of progress, a sign of accountability, but also a recognition that the work is just starting," he said.

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