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Target CEO out over data breach

Exit hints retailer wants clean slate

Steinhafel
Mulligan

– Target’s CEO has become the first boss of a major corporation to lose his job over a breach of customer data, showing how responsibility for computer security now reaches right to the top.

Gregg Steinhafel, who was also president and chairman, stepped down nearly five months after Target disclosed a huge pre-Christmas breach in which hackers stole millions of customers’ credit- and debit-card records. The theft badly damaged the store chain’s reputation and profits.

Steinhafel, a 35-year veteran of the company and chief executive since 2008, also resigned from the board of directors, Target announced Monday.

“He was the public face of the breach. The company struggled to recover from it,” said Cynthia Larose, chair of the privacy and security practice at the law firm Mintz Levin. “It’s a new era for boards to take a proactive role in understanding what the risks are.”

The departure of Steinhafel, 59, suggests the company wants a clean slate as it wrestles with the fallout. But the resignation leaves a leadership hole at a time when the 1,800-store chain is facing many other challenges.

The company, known for its trendy but affordable housewares and fashions, is struggling to maintain its cachet while competing with Wal-Mart and Amazon.com. Target is also grappling with a disappointing expansion into Canada, its first foray outside the U.S.

Experts say the breach, which highlighted the flaws in Target’s security system, seemed to be the final straw.

Target board said in a statement that after extensive discussions with Steinhafel, members both “have decided it is the right time for new leadership at Target.” The board also said that he “held himself personally accountable.”

“The last several months have tested Target in unprecedented ways,” Steinhafel wrote in a letter to the board. “From the beginning, I have been committed to ensuring Target emerges from the data breach a better company, more focused than ever on delivering for our guests.”

The company’s stock fell more than 3 percent, or $2.14, to close at $59.87.

Chief Financial Officer John Mulligan was named interim president and CEO.

Under Steinhafel’s leadership, Target won praise for its expansion into fresh groceries and its 5 percent discount for customers who use its branded debit and credit cards. But Target, based in Minneapolis, has been criticized for reacting too slowly to the shift toward shopping on mobile devices. Target just started to let shoppers order items online and pick them up at the store, years later than some competitors.

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