Best Buy exec after what we did right with our technology: ‘It was terrible’

He was a frog in a glass dish. It was 2010, and Best Buy was undergoing difficult times. The electronics retailer had a lot of debt, falling sales and some poisonous employee relations. CEO Brian Dunn had resigned; the company had lost significant market share to Amazon.The growing discontent with the way the company was being run reached a boiling point at a general shareholders meeting, where employees tried to oust Mr. Joly as chairman of the board. Standing across from one of the protesters, Mr. Joly said the idea of moving him to a different board position was absurd. “I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing,” he said.

Now he’s facing many of the same issues at Sears.

Later that year, Mr. Joly presided over a “gathering of all the leaders of all the divisions in the company,” he recalled in an interview, to hear employees’ ideas and desires. He asked them: What would they like to see changed? What is your goal? Would you like to see a system where these divisions are no longer based in Minneapolis and have influence in terms of the strategy?

To present Mr. Joly’s initiatives, many companies “bring in somebody to teach them how to run a company,” he said. But “our approach is that we come in and say: ‘This is the way it should be, and if you don’t like it, let us know how to get back to it.’ ”

Mr. Joly’s mission, he said, was “to reimagine how companies do business. The essence of the business: People should be out in front, interacting with customers in person and on the internet. How companies design their retail stores, how they think about logistics and supply chains, how they think about fulfillment.”

That’s how Mr. Joly turned Best Buy around — the chain of more than 1,200 retail stores in the United States, Canada and China built on the tradition of hardware repairmen — but the lessons are not unique to Best Buy. The ultimate goal, he said, is for companies everywhere to “not be headed to the mediocrity of leadership that we see in the state of capitalism.”

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