Hubert Joly was an unconventional pick to lead Best Buy in 2012. Skeptics wondered then how a former hotel chief with no retail experience could stop Best Buy’s spiral toward oblivion.
It was too late, many speculated, for Best Buy, which had outlasted so many other electronics/appliance chains only to find itself trapped by its own unresponsive reliance on aisles of CDs and DVDs; and seemingly endless arrays of TVs that more often than not “showroomed” sales for Amazon.
The skeptics were wrong.
That Joly had steered turnarounds in industries as disparate as video games (Vivendi) and hospitality (Carlson) proved to be a dependable foundation for Best Buy’s transformation.
Joly saw in Best Buy an innovation- and service-rooted heritage— plus some attractive real estate— well-positioned to shepherd consumers through a new wave of Internet-connected consumer technology that was beginning to boil as Joly arrived.
Joly started with a price-matching guarantee at stores to prevent shoppers from drifting to Amazon. He went to work on Best Buy’s omnichannel platform, developing a new website and mobile app while transforming stores into online order fulfillment and pick-up outlets.
Best Buy was among the first national retailers to present IoT and smart home as a full-blown destination category encompassing communication, entertainment, security and wellness. Joly and his team reasoned that despite the widespread online availability of such products, consumers would need the assurances provided by direct interaction with products and the human sales touch.
Best Buy cut aisles of outdated media and streamlined core audio-video-computer selections, opening space for mini-shops for such technology brands as Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft.
Joly simultaneously restored Best Buy’s main advantage over Amazon: Service. Retrained sales staffs, motivated by higher wages and better benefits, reaffirmed Best Buy— which once raised the bar for personalized guidance with its Geek Squad tech support and Magnolia home theater services— as an expert resource for helping customers sort through what can be confusing choices.
Joly passes the CEO baton in June to Best Buy veteran Corie Barry, the current CFO and a central player in the retailer’s turnaround strategy.
Barry takes the reins of an operation that has demonstrated an endangered retail business can be saved, especially when the transformation layers sharp vision and execution onto core values anchoring the business’ original success: Innovation and service in the case of Best Buy.
Best Buy’s board showed mettle by going outside the retail industry for its potential salvation. Joly proved visionary leadership shares fundamentals from one industry to the next, yet it also can be resoundingly transformative when it is not swayed by conventional thinking and practice.
Struggling retailers spiraling toward oblivion (they know who they are) should take note of Best Buy’s transformation. Then they should take action and harness their inner Hubert Joly.
Before it really is too late.