Johnson attributed the industry's shakeups to the pressured retail economy, which is suffering a "persistent overcapacity of supply versus demand," and some poor decisions in wake of these pressures. Not only is retail an "intensely competitive business," but it's particularly hard to fill executive roles in the industry because it's difficult to find someone who is both a good merchant and has the right tools to be a CEO.
"The skill sets needed to be a good merchant are often different than the skill sets needed to be a CEO," he said. "Merchants tend to be right-brain people, and good [CEOs], particularly nowadays, tend to be someone a little more left-brained. … You don't find [that] combination of skills that often."
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Les Berglass, CEO of retail placement firm Berglass + Associates, said, "Target needs to bring in leadership that returns to the innovation that its consumer has come to expect and at the same time can respect the DNA of such a powerful and proud brand."
He added that the retail industry today is different, because "for the first real time in America you're fighting a share war as opposed to a growth war."
SW Retail Advisors analyst Stacey Widlitz sounded a similar note about the changing industry.
"Things have changed. The consumer has changed. It's all about omnichannel and delivering to the consumer the way they want it," she said. "A lot of the old guard in some of these larger cap companies really has just been not dynamic enough to change with the times."
JD Sherry, vice president of technology and solutions at Trend Micro cloud security firm, said, "Other CEOs may share Steinhafel's fate if they don't learn from the Target debacle."
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"To me, the lesson is simple: The responsibility of a modern CEO includes relentlessly and tirelessly guarding the security and safety of their customer's data," he said.
In Target's case, Widlitz and other analysts agreed that an internal hire would be viewed negatively, and the company should seek an outside talent to take over the role. Wells Fargo analyst Matt Nemer suggested Gap CEO Glenn Murphy or a senior executive from a leading department store chain could be a good choice. He and Cowen Group analyst Faye Landes also viewed Wal-Mart's U.S. leader Bill Simon, who was overlooked to become the company's new CEO in favor of McMillion, as a possible candidate.