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This Is One Incredible CEO

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The Motley Fool's readers have spoken, and I have heeded your cries. After months of pointing out CEO gaffes and faux pas, I've decided to make it a weekly tradition to also point out corporate leaders who are putting the interests of shareholders and the public first, and who are generally deserving of praise from investors. For reference, here is last week's selection.

This week, let's take aim at Target's (NYSE: TGT  ) bull's-eye, and I'll show you why CEO Gregg Steinhafel is really something special.

Kudos to you, Mr. Steinhafel
From struggling franchise to retail behemoth, Target has continuously transformed itself over the years to keep pace with larger rival Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) and attract cost-conscious consumers into its one-stop-shop retail stores. Not everything we see today is a direct result of the work of Steinhafel, who became CEO in 2008. In fact, much of Target's success in the early 1990s was derived from a focus on designer brands that was made possible by then-CEO and former head of Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) store concept Ron Johnson.

But let's be frank, Steinhafel has done a pretty darn good job himself. His focus on keeping with Target's roots (designer brands at a reasonable price) while also introducing loyalty-reward credit card discounts and emphasizing grocery sales to draw a greater income swath into its stores has been the engine that has kept profits moving steadily higher since 2009.

Some of Target's peers are attempting to mimic its focus on designer brands, but many are failing. J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  ) , which is now helmed by the aforementioned Ron Johnson, is working on building a store-within-a-store concept, but is losing its core base of discount seekers in the process. Similarly, Kohl's (NYSE: KSS  ) has proven vulnerable with numerous earnings warnings and the use of steep discounts in recent quarters. The fact of the matter is that consumer spending is tightening and people are demanding value now more than ever. Steinhafel is delivering that value.

A step above his peers
As you can guess, there's more to Steinhafel than just running one of the nation's largest retail chains.

To begin with, Target is helping get a large number of Americans back to work. Last week Target announced that it would be hiring between 80,000 and 90,000 seasonal workers in its stores and distribution centers. According to Target, nearly a third of the 92,000 hired last year stayed with the company on a full- or part-time basis. Wal-Mart, by comparison, will be hiring 50,000 seasonal employees.

Second, Steinhafel's pay has remained largely in line with his performance. In 2011 it dipped 18% to just under $20 million as he took home much less in incentive pay and stock awards. The reason behind the dip in pay was a rise in input costs which hampered Target's margins. Lining up Steinhafel's pay with Target's operational performance is a good way to ensure shareholders are getting the most out of its CEO.

Finally, Target is taking care of its shareholders. Since 2005, Target's quarterly dividend payout has exploded higher. In just seven years, it has more than tripled, from $0.10 to $0.36, and has doubled in just the four years under Steinhafel's watch.

Two thumbs up
Nearly every week I seem to come to the conclusion that being a great CEO isn't rocket science, and this week is no different. Gregg Steinhafel is running Target to its strengths by keeping the brands fresh and its customers happy. Steinhafel has also done a marvelous job rewarding shareholders and giving people an opportunity to work. For that, I give him two emphatic thumbs up.

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Do you have a CEO you'd like to nominate for this prestigious weekly honor? If so, then head on over to the new "CEO of the Week" board and chime in with your fellow Fools on who deserves some praise. If you don't have a nominee yet, don't worry: You can still weigh in on other members' selections.

Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. He loves giving credit when credit is due. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of, and creating a bull call spread position in, Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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