Stephanie Lundquist ’98 graduated with a double major in business and communication and attributes much of her success to the relationships and education she received while at Concordia. Throughout her career journey, and especially now as the executive vice president and president of food and beverage for Target, she has unwavered from the core values that were instilled in her at a young age.
Bold and determined, Lundquist is unafraid to tackle a new project and is a continual learner, improving upon and building her knowledge in any given area. Although she has experienced the ultimate success story, Lundquist has had quite a journey along the way. Through her dedication, passion for others, and belief in the culture and mission of Target, she’s has been able to work her way up to serve in some of the highest positions at the company.
How did you come to work for Target and what has your journey within the company been like?
My entire career has been in retail. I like to say that retail found me and I fell in love with it – the fast pace, the consumer-centric nature, and the fact that it often gives you the opportunity to lead big teams and be a part of a community and have an impact on that community, because that’s really what retailing is all about.
I started my career right out of college at Dayton’s, back when it was still a part of Target. I had a number of different experiences – I was with Dayton’s, Kohl’s, and then Marshall Field’s. Following a variety of roles, this November marks 14 years since I decided to take my career to the Red side of the Target Corporation. At the time, it was a great opportunity to continue my career in human resources and leverage all that I had learned in retail up until that point.
Since then, I have had the chance to do a lot of different things includinga number of HR roles that have been focused on talent and culture. I have also done operational and transformational roles where I helped Target reset its strategy and build the culture that was needed to deliver it.
One of the roles I loved the most was being the head of human resources as chief HR officer for three years. It was an incredible experience at a pivotal time for the organization. In 2016 and 2017, the conversation was “Retail Apocalypse: Brick and Mortar is Dead” and it became a great opportunity for us at Target to solidify our strategy, pick our own path, and invest in our future. We did just that.
Now, for the past nine months, I have been the president of food and beverage, which has proved to be another great and unique opportunity. It t also has consistency with what I’ve done in my past in setting a clear strategy, building the right team to deliver it, and focusing on long-term growth. It’s been a remarkable journey so far.
One of the lessons I’ve learned and a lot of people ask is, “How do you make sure you have the right opportunities?” My response is that it’s more about making the most out of every opportunity versus thinking that there’s only one right one. That’s how I have approached my entire career. Every single experience is a chance to learn about yourself, a new topic, expertise, or skill. It’s less about thinking that there’s only one path or one perfect role but instead making the most out of every single one of them.
I’ve never shied away from a challenge; I believe you need to be willing to take big risks, business-wise, work-wise, topic-wise, and personally. It’s when you put yourself in uncomfortable situations and challenge yourself to learn something new that you grow the most. It’s my mistakes and tough moments that have propelled me and have taught me the most about myself. I wouldn’t have had those experiences had I not taken risks, and it’s something I will continue to do because I realize how much it has benefitted and allowed me to make a big impact.
You graduated with a double major in business and communication more than 20 years ago. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your industry?
The biggest change that I have witnessed in business and across all industries is the pace of change. We currently live in an environment where the pace of change is faster than it’s ever been. What you think might be coming in three or five years is guaranteed to look different than it currently does. Realizing this has taught me that the best thing you can do is prepare yourself and your organization for change by being agile. You must be willing to keep your head up and stay aware of what’s happening broadly in your industry as well as outside of it. Change is everywhere, so you must learn to be a constant student of it.
As I was getting ready to speak on campus, I was reminded why I chose Concordia. One of the reasons I decided to attend, aside from the liberal arts education, was because there was a clause that I read about Concordia’s beliefs and encompassed the idea of welcoming a diverse set of students and harnessing that diversity. It stated that students of all backgrounds and perspectives were to be welcomed because of the college’s Lutheran roots that liberated us to challenge all aspects of the status quo. The clause said to be bold and curious, to ask questions and not accept things at face value. I remember reading that and thinking, “That is the place I want to go to school.” I have carried that mentality throughout my entire career, which I believe has allowed me to compete in an ever-changing environment.
When you graduated, is this the path you saw for yourself?
When I graduated from Concordia, I sincerely didn’t know what I wanted to do. I remember getting my first job out of college in retail and quickly learning about the power of having sponsors and advocates. I never would have interviewed for that first job if Dr. Anderson, who was my economics professor at the time, hadn’t recommended me. He had read the job description, recommended that I interview for it, and knew probably better than I did how well-suited I was for that position. I’m so thankful for that. So, I interviewed for the job, got it, and fell in love with the position. Right out of college I led a 60-person team and ran a business, which was an incredible opportunity. Did I know where it was going to lead? No, but what I did know was that I was going to make the most out of that opportunity.
What is the best piece of advice you would give a current student who is studying business or communication?
I often get career questions related to how you know you’re on the right path or how to aspire to X, Y, or Z. I tell people that while it’s great to have ambitions, you should focus near-term – on the next role or two – rather than worry about five years from now. This is important because you’ll learn so much in that next role about a topic or something that you are passionate about that will shape your next experience. You’ll also learn what you don’t enjoy doing, which is equally as important. Part of that is choosing to focus on the journey rather than worrying about the outcome or the end result. It’s a constant learning journey, so lean into that knowledge and embrace every moment along the way.
What skills are necessary for success in your industry?
For any company or business, I believe there are four key skills that every leader should possess. I’ve observed these traits in individuals and when they have them it’s incredible and when they don’t it holds them back. I’d summarize them into these four:
- A genuine humility and authenticity. You have to be true to yourself. When people try to be someone they are not, you can tell. That’s hard to follow and work with. But when people are humble and authentically true to themselves it’s powerful.
- Having a clear sense of purpose and values. It’s important to find what resonates with you so you can find organizations that are in line with that. I feel very fortunate that Target is a purpose driven company and at the core of what we do is a great set of values that align with my own. I would encourage anyone to keep that in mind and to know their core values.
- Accountability and drive. I strongly believe that you need to be willing to put in the tough work. You need to be accountable in owning when you make mistakes or don’t deliver. From my own perspective, I often find these moments to be the most admirable - when people show they are accountable yet have tremendous drive.
- Be relentlessly curious and agile. You have to be a constant learner; everyone experiences things differently and nothing stays constant for very long, regardless of industry.
What is something you are proud of that Target has accomplished since you’ve been there? And for yourself professionally?
As I mentioned, 2016 and f 2017 were incredibly disruptive and challenging years in the retail industry. I feel proud to be a part of a company that chose to focus on understanding who we were, that we leveraged our core strengths, and that we doubled down on our purpose of “helping all families discover the joy of everyday life.”
We defined what that meant for us in a moment of pure disruption. Instead of following the example of what many other companies were doing at the time, I’m proud that we picked our own path. We implemented a strategy, which announced in spring 2017, that we were going to invest $7 billion in our business, including a significant investment in our team. At the time, I was the chief HR officer, and we took a big industry-leading approach saying that we were going to invest in a starting minimum wage of $15 per hour by the end of 2020. There was shock and awe in the retail industry that we were willing to make such a bold commitment at a time when others were trying to find a way to cut costs.
I’m proud of that because it wasn’t just about our strategy and investing in the business side of our company, but it showed our commitment and belief in the people side of our company and the fact that we knew we wouldn’t get where we wanted to be without an amazing team.
What is the best piece of advice you would give a current student who is studying business?
In closing, I have two pieces of advice. First, is that it’s really about leveraging the moment and opportunity that’s in front of you. It’s easy to worry about the next opportunity and next set of things, but it’s more important to make the most out of every opportunity. Even as a student, take on special assignments and be a part of organizations that can teach you multiple dimensions of yourself and topics well beyond what your major and first job entails. It really does pay off while teaching you so much about yourself along the way.
Second, enjoy the journey. One of my personal goals that have served me so well is to enjoy the journey because it’s important to have fun along the way which is why I love working at Target. It’s ultimately about joy, optimism, and having a little fun.