Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Jason DeRusha eats with Greg Cunningham
Random Fact: Greg’s son Myles plays hockey, and his daughter, whitney, plays volleyball. Both play at the Blake School.
Greg Cunningham is not your typical Target executive. Sure, he has the requisite MBA (from Fordham University), he’s worked at Dayton’s and Pillsbury, and his current gig has its share of meetings. But mixing it up with celebrities, DJs, and sports figures is also part of his job as senior group manager of experiential marketing and alliance. We ate at Masa, just downstairs from his office.
What on earth does a senior group manager of lifestyle marketing do? It’s about connecting our guest’s passions back to Target. We do everything from sports marketing, millennial marketing, influencer marketing: Who are the people shaping culture? Who are the people doing cool and interesting things our guests like?
Following your Twitter, I see you go from a NASCAR track to New York Fashion Week to a hip-hop show. Yeah, all the time. I just went from a women’s surf event in Maui to support one of our DJs in Miami.
Target has a DJ? We have a couple DJs! It’s all about culture, the many facets of things our guests are interested in.
The restaurant: Masa’s open dining room makes it the perfect spot to see and be seen near Target’s headquarters. The food is a modern, fresh take on Mexican.
What Greg ate: Greg always gets the Camarones al Mojo de Ajo: shrimp with toasted garlic and chipotle salsa gravy.
I ate: The Enchiladas con Pollo Estilo Morelia: corn tortillas dipped in salsa and sautéed. The pickled jalapeños and carrots served with it provide a nice crunch to this perfect lunch dish.
Is Greg Cunningham this cool or have you had to learn about all this? I feel very comfortable in those different settings. My mom raised us to be extremely open. If you’re open to where culture is going and don’t try to put your own biases to it, it’s amazing how much more comfortable you are when you just let it happen.
What was it like being the first kid in your family to go to college? I’ll never forget. I went to an all-boys Catholic high school in Pittsburgh. [The white kid] who sat in front of me and had the same grades as I did met with the counselor and came back with pamphlets for Duke and Notre Dame.
Then you went in. He said, ‘Mr. Cunningham, are you sure you want to go to college?’ I was crushed. I was deflated. I was at a college-prep school. Of course I wanted to go to college. It affected me in a way that’s hard to describe.
How mad was your mom? I never told her. I never wanted to share [that] with anybody. What am I, a gangster? I’m in a college-prep school, getting great grades, and you’re telling me that I maybe shouldn’t go to college?
You decided to go to Clark Atlanta University. I got a United Negro College Fund scholarship. I wouldn’t have been able to go to college if it wasn’t for UNCF. I went into marketing at a New York City finance firm, then got an MBA at Fordham, but my girlfriend (now wife) got a job at 3M.
You worked for Pillsbury and Dayton’s. I managed the men’s department for a while . . . . But the whole time, I was volunteering for the UNCF here.
They hired you away to be area director. I’d been on a career treadmill. So it felt like the right time to do something I felt good about. I never wanted another kid in my situation to have someone trample on their dreams. We raised almost $11 million for scholarships for kids in Minneapolis to attend college.
How did you end up working at Target? I was giving a speech at the UNCF Martin Luther King Day event, and a woman from Target came up to me afterwards. That led to this.
It’s interesting how your corporate career led you to a nonprofit career, which then accelerated you back into a corporate career. I always wanted to work on things I was passionate about.
You’ve had some crazy celebrity encounters. A couple years ago we did a dinner to honor Pharrell Williams, when he was named co-conductor of the Oscars. Thirty people [attended]. The first person who arrived was Usher, followed by Charlize Theron.
You were trying to keep it together, right? I talked to the group and said, ‘I don’t wanna be this suit giving these remarks,’ and Cameron Diaz yelled out, ‘But that’s a really nice suit!’ It was a pretty cool moment to think about how far I’ve come.
Jason DeRusha anchors WCCO-TV’s morning and noon news. He also asks some really good questions.