UPTOWN Professional Oct 18, 2011

Elite Executive: Laysha Ward

Elite Executives: Laysha WardTarget has more than earned its reputation as a sales giant. Yet few know that the company is also an avid and major contributor to community-building. And that is in large part due to the efforts of Laysha Ward, the president of community relations. It is her responsibility to distribute 5 percent of the company’s income, about $3 million a week, to worthy causes nationwide.

A 19-year veteran of Target, Ward began her career in 1991 in store sales and management in Chicago, where she later served as community relations manager at Marshall Field’s. In 1998, she was named Target’s director of community relations. She was promoted to vice president of community relations in 2003 and rose to her current position in 2008. In January, Ward joined the company’s executive committee.

Though Ward is an expert on all things Target, she still finds it challenging to sort through the stacks of letters from charities to determine who will get donations. “You have to start with a solid strategy,” she told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “K-12 education is the filter through which we assess a lot of requests. We also focus on connecting social services, the arts and volunteerism.”

Ward’s corporate philanthropy extends beyond Target, as she serves on the board of Denny’s Corporation and was nominated by George W. Bush to the Corporation for National and Community Service. She is also on the board of the Executive Leadership Council, a national organization whose mission is to develop African-American business leaders. These posts fall in line with her personal leadership philosophy, which she shared with the Tribune: “Your words and your actions must be aligned to be a credible leader. I can’t just talk about what I believe; I have to be involved.”