Target stockholders mad at execs

By Scott Carlson

Knight Ridder Newspapers

At Target Corp.'s annual meeting Wednesday, chief executive officer Bob Ulrich came prepared to talk to shareholders -- but apparently not to listen to them.

In a meeting that took less than half an hour, Ulrich introduced top company officers, conducted two routine business items and gave stockholders a brief synopsis of the Minneapolis-based retailer's accomplishments in 2002 and some of its plans for this year. Among those plans: shoring up its declining Marshall Field's division with a new look.

Then Ulrich promptly adjourned the meeting without taking shareholders' questions. His abrupt exit from the podium stunned the audience and rankled many stockholders -- especially at a time when corporate accountability is under intense scrutiny.


"I am irritated and disgusted," said Aaron Epstein, a 72-year-old shareholder who traveled from Sherman Oaks, Calif., to attend the meeting. "This is the first time in 30 years they didn't take questions. They (Target) are a good company and do good work. But the impression is they have something to hide."

If he could have spoken, Epstein wanted to ask about Ulrich receiving $19 million in total compensation last year.

Other shareholders, such as Bill Ritzen of Golden Valley, Minn., wanted to query executives on whether Target's strategy of adding more food offerings at its regular discount stores is too similar to that of rival Wal-Mart. Ritzen noted Target's stock price is down about $9 a share from a year ago when it was trading at about $41 or $42 a share.

Meanwhile, the Parents Television Council blasted Target for cutting short the meeting, contending it was promised a chance to air concerns about some of the retailer's TV ads showing up during sexually charged programs such as "Real World" and "Road Rules." Target had no immediate response to the complaint.

At a media question-and-answer session after the meeting, Target executives insisted they weren't ducking shareholders. Chief financial officer Doug Scovanner contended Target maintains extensive communications with shareholders, noting that he and his staff spend much of their time fielding shareholders' calls.

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