"What I learned leading one of America's great turnarounds"

Interview: The former CEO of Best Buy, Hubert Joly, on self-inflicted problems, fish rotting from the head and leading from the heart.

by Adam Gale

It’s 2012. You’re successfully running multibillion-dollar private travel conglomerate Carlson, having been at Vivendi and McKinsey. Electronics giant Best Buy, on the other hand, was taking a kicking. Why did you take the CEO job? 

When I got the call about the role, I said: “You’re crazy – I don’t know anything about retail, and this place is a zoo.” It had an all-you-can-eat menu of challenges.

There were strategic challenges with Amazon trying to kill us and vendors like Apple and Sony opening stores, operational challenges with the quality of service having really declined, leadership challenges with the previous CEO being fired, shareholder challenges with the stock dropping so precipitously [70% over two years] that the founder tried to take the company private.

But I agreed to take a look. I read everything I could, listened to the previous team’s earnings calls and spoke with alumni. What I saw was two things. First, the world actually needed Best Buy: vendors because they needed somewhere to showcase the billions they’d invested in R&D – you cannot experience a TV’s picture quality on Amazon – and customers because it’s actually good to talk to someone before making a big purchase.

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