Target CEO Resigns in Wake of Data Breach

Retailer Dogged by Questions About Whether It Responded Quickly Enough to Hack

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Gregg Steinhafel
Gregg Steinhafel

Target Chief Executive Officer Gregg Steinhafel, dogged by questions over whether the company responded quickly enough to a data breach last year, will step down as chairman, president and CEO.

John Mulligan, Target's chief financial officer, will serve as interim CEO while the company seeks a permanent replacement, according to a statement. Board member Roxanne Austin will be interim chairwoman.

"The board is confident in the future of this company and views this transition as an opportunity to drive Target's business forward and accelerate the company's transformation efforts," the directors said in the statement.

Beth Jacob, who had served as Target's top technology officer during the breach, stepped down in March. That same month Target told a Senate panel it had clues about the attack weeks before responding and was exploring why it took so long to react.

Mr. Steinhafel had been working to regain customers' loyalty after hackers stole card data and personal information from tens of millions of shoppers during the holiday season. The breach led Target to shelve a campaign slated to break during the Olympics. That campaign, themed "Around for Good," highlights the retailer's efforts to be a good corporate citizen, from its community-service efforts to its sustainably sourced seafood.

Interim CEO John Mulligan
Interim CEO John Mulligan

CMO Jeff Jones told Ad Age in March that the company continues to carefully monitor consumer sentiment, including measures around favorability, integrity and trust. Those gauges will be carefully watched throughout this year, especially as the holidays approach. Though the breach will eventually cease to be top-of-mind for consumers, it's a given that media reports will drag it back into consumers' consciousness as the holiday season approaches. "We're in the early days of planning for that," Mr. Jones said.

In the wake of the breach, retailers have banded together to craft a cyber-security information exchange in conjunction with the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center, a financial industry organization.

"I think there's a general consensus among policy makers and also among retailers that better information sharing would be a good idea," said David French, senior VP-government relations for the National Retail Federation. The project is a direct result of the Target data breach and an increase in security holes, he added.

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