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Lessons Learned from Target Canada: Strategy vs. Culture vs. Leadership Talent

The closing of Target in Canada within a couple of years of the iconic US retailer expanding its business in an attempt to become multi-national in an attempt to complete and grow against its main competitor (small company based out of Arkansas) is sad.Strategy Culture Leadership Talent @DergelCFO

Sad because over 17,000 people lost their jobs and need to start over.

Sad because the brand of a true ironic American company has taken a big bruising.

Sad because, if the expansion was executed correctly, it would have changed, and probably improved, the retail landscape for Canadian consumers, not to mention the impact it could have had internationally.

And most importantly, sad because it didn’t have to turn out this way.

I have waited to share my thoughts on this news so it could allow me to think about how to comment on this property, while taking in the commentary and opinions of others.

There are those that come out and blame the logistical failure that led to empty shelves.

A number of people pointed to pricing differences between the US and Canada that had Canadian consumers scratching their heads at the perception that Target Canada’s pricing was inconsistent and unfair.

Pundits point to the poorly chosen locations ‎that Target chose after the demise of Zellers in Canada, as well as the strategy of opening too many stores at once while not learning this new and culturally different market.

In the end, while these may be reasons (excuses) for a series of failures, the failures of execution stem from the failure of leadership. And this goes all the way to the top, and every leadership level on the way there.

Imagine the scene in the boardroom at Target a few years back. Imagine executive management making a very slick presentation to the Board as to the Who, What, Where, Why, When and How of expanding into Canada. Imagine that everyone was giddy with expectations of success, profits and accolades. The strategy was set. All was needed was the execution of the strategy.

When I picture the final approval at the table, my childhood memory is of Captain James T. Kirk saying those famous words “Make it So, Number One”.

Obviously, “making it so” is a lot easier said than done. Target’s Canadian adventure is one more highly publicized misadventure for MBA case studies of the near future.

Leadership Talent is where this fell apart. All the actions or inactions, reasons or excuses, come from the fact that the right people were not hired or promoted to make this grand scheme work.

I continue to see, time and time again, situations where companies do not bring on board the best possible leadership talent to execute. Execution not only means following the original strategic plan, but making sure that the plan continues to evolve as the situation evolves. The mistakes we know about, as well as the mistakes we will never hear about, all contributed to the demise of this $4 billion dollar adventure for Target shareholders.

I also continue to see, time and time again, choices being made in executive hiring that are emotional, personal and illogical. Vested interests lead to decisions being taken without proper assessment of the true needs compared to the knowledge, skills and abilities of the best candidates for these mission critical roles.

The bright side of the Target foray into Canada is the impact that Target culture has had on a generation of Canadian employees. I enjoyed reading and hearing about the warm, motivating, employee excellence and recognition culture that permeated the organization. ‎I believe that employers and employees across Canada will benefit from the introduction of these ideas into businesses across Canada for years to come.

But to paraphrase Peter Drucker:

Culture may eat strategy for breakfast, but Leadership talent ensures that there is food on the table. 


Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
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(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

Good piece Samuel! A great reminder on strategy and execution.

In the interest of right info.........

Capt. James Tiberius Kirk does NOT say "Make it so Number One!".... That line belongs to Capt Jean-Luc Picard. (Star Trek Next Generation) :-D

Topic Expert
Samuel Dergel
Title: Director - Executive Search
Company: Stanton Chase International
LinkedIn Profile
(Director - Executive Search, Stanton Chase International) |


Yes. Thank you for making the correction. I had another person correct me on this in the comments on the original posting on my blog site.

All I can say is that I feel like the teacher who was caught saying something wrong, and my response is "I'm just checking to see if you've been listening".

Hope all is well,

Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

All I can say is............Engage!

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
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(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

Interesting article. I agree that there may be many case studies that review this situation in the future. But to just offer another factor, Target was not the first, but clearly the first large scale cyber attack which made this issue front and center in 2014, for the US.

Target Stores announced on its website 12.19.2013 that it experienced “…unauthorized access to Target payment card data. The unauthorized access may impact guests who made credit or debit card purchases in our U.S. stores from Nov. 27 to Dec. 15, 2013.”

An event that had such a damaging impact on a brand, may have created a disruption large enough that stores in non-primary markets suffered, as all resources were put against defending the primary markets.

Regardless of the factors that brought down the brand in Canada, I agree that the quality of the leadership is important to steer an organization through any disruption.