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Chair And CEO Of Target Brian Cornell Leads Through Immersion

Brian Cornell Headshot
Photo Courtesy of Brian Cornell
In this edition of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, leadership speaker and storytelling expert Don Yaeger sits down with Target Chair and CEO Brian Cornell to discuss how leaders can build deeper connections with their teams by sharing powerful experiences.


A lot of executives say they have an open door policy but do little to actually encourage the kind of approachability implied by the term. Not Target Chair and CEO Brian Cornell. Since being hired as CEO at retail giant Target—that’s nearly 2,000 stores plus 400,000 team members—he has literally immersed himself in developing close mentoring relationships with his teams.

And he’s done it by taking 10-15 of his officers at a time on a two-day, “accelerated mentorship program” during which Cornell and his team travel to different parts of the country, spend time in Target stores and distribution centers, and meet with board members or shareholders—even other CEOs who have something to teach them. 

He does multiple immersions each year.

“It’s a chance to build connections, it’s a chance to teach and give them new experiences,” said Cornell during the podcast. “I took a group to Memphis, where we’ve had a long partnership with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, but also to experience the Target House where in any given week, we support 100 families whose children are going through cancer treatment. It gives our team an amazing sense for the values of the company and the impact we’re having.”

Nothing breaks down individual “walls” and builds trust faster than an open door that leads out of the building and into the world beyond a company’s four walls. First, explains Cornell, it’s educational. “They’ll have certain memories and perspectives now on the business that they’ve never had before,” he said of his fellow travelers. 

Second, these connections grease the wheels for future spots the team may encounter. “If there’s any concern about how we interact, it all fades away because they realize we’re all part of one team.” Cornell pointed out.

Leaders who want to turn their open door policy into something truly transformational will enjoy Cornell’s tips and insights, including:

  • How the fields and courts of his childhood football, basketball, and baseball teams shaped the leader he is today.
  • How Cornell applied John Wooden’s coaching lessons to establish “retail fundamentals” at Target. 
  • Why breaking down barriers to mentorship is so important to corporate culture.


Cornell’s commitment to fostering a strong team culture earned him the 2023 John Wooden Global Leadership Award from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. The connection between sport and business leadership has not escaped him. “My role as CEO is a chance to coach again, and teach and share some new stories,” admitted Cornell. “After all these years, I guess I’m still on the field.”

Check out more episodes of Corporate Competitor Podcast with guests including Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders, MasterClass CEO David Rogier, and Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian.


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