Obituary: Target founder Douglas Dayton

by Harry Sheff

Douglas DaytonDouglas Dayton, who founded the retail giant Target as a division of the Minneapolis-based department store chain Dayton’s in 1960, has died after a battle with cancer. He was 88.

Reached for comment, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel sent a statement: “On behalf of the entire Target team, we extend our heartfelt condolences to the family and many friends of Douglas Dayton. Along with his brothers and cousin, Doug was instrumental in helping to guide the strategic direction of Dayton Hudson Corporation for many years and institutionalize the values that are at the heart of Target Corporation today. We are thankful for Doug’s leadership, and his many contributions to our company and community.”

Mark Dayton, Douglas’s nephew and the current Governor of Minnesota said in his own statement, “My Uncle Doug was an extraordinary businessman, philanthropist, and leader of our family. I have cherished memories of our times together: duck and pheasant hunting in Heron Lake, serving on the board of a family business, and discussing the latest political developments.

“With his typical modesty, Doug didn’t claim the public recognition he deserved for his success. Yet what an enormous difference his business acumen has made for thousands of Target employees, customers, and charitable causes.”

Dayton, a mortar sergeant in the Army during WWII, started in the family business in 1948 with four brothers. He ran the Rochester, Minnesota Dayton’s store—the first door outside the Twin Cities—beginning in 1954. In 1960, he became the founder and first president of the new Target division of discount stores. He stayed on at Target until 1968 when he returned to the Dayton’s division as SVP of administration. It was in 1969 that Dayton’s acquired Detroit’s 21-store J.L. Hudson Company; the merged companies became Dayton-Hudson.

Dayton-Hudson acquired Chicago-based Marshall Field’s in 1990 as its Target business was growing. Eventually the company spun off Target Corp as a separate, independent company and the department store business was sold in 2004 to May Company.

In 1974, Dayton founded Dade Development Capital. He ran it for the next 20 years until his retirement.

An obituary published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today said, “In his retirement Doug spent most of his time doing what he loved most; nurturing his 40 acres of restored prairie. On any given spring, summer or fall day one might see him in his straw hat on his 1946 Ford tractor or utility cart tending to his prairie grasses or wildflowers. He was also very committed to assisting the Raptor Center with its osprey banding/GPS/tracking program. He had an osprey pole for many years at his home and he looked forward to the birth of two to three fledglings every year.”

In addition to the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center, Dayton was involved with the YMCA, The Urban League, Summit Academy OIC, The Police Athletic League, The Minneapolis Urban Coalition and the Nature Conservancy.

Douglas Dayton is survived by his wife Wendy; children David, Steve, Bruce and Elizabeth; brother Bruce; and six grandchildren.

A memorial service is planned but not scheduled yet.