At a time when many thought new technologies were the harbinger of an unprecedented era of innovation and economic prosperity, one guy helped prevent the greatest tech company in history from becoming a sad joke. His name is Hubert Joly.
It is fitting, then, that Joly started out as an executive in the computer parts industry—it wasn’t exactly the best of times for computer-repair shops in the 1980s and 1990s. His growth career began with what he calls “amateur” business-school training. “There was one day during my year in school where I just wanted to be a computer repairman,” Joly told Fareed Zakaria in an exclusive interview at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit on Tuesday. “I did what everybody did, and I went and worked in a computer parts store. And it was just a way to put my economics training to use.”
At the same time, Joly’s former American wife, Anne, pursued an MBA. It was his passion that ultimately led him to “become an entrepreneur” rather than follow his wife to the top of the global corporations that dominated the economy at the time. “I wanted to change the way the business world worked,” Joly said.
It is well known now that Joly embarked on an improbable transformation of Best Buy. No longer a retail company with an antiquated business model focused on price matching, Joly relied instead on an updated technology-focused business model focused on online shopping, all while paying out billions in employee bonuses and stock grants. The “hope that people won’t come to our stores is going to go away,” Joly said. “We’re going to reinvent the whole business model.”
“The recovery is not going to take a couple of years. It is going to take 20 years,” he said.
Joly has done plenty of restructuring and running corporations of all shapes and sizes since then. Formerly the CEO of Carlson, a hotel and restaurant company, he’s been charged with making a series of changes. The consumer travel and restaurant business is certainly not without its challenges. But still, there may not be a better person to learn how to handle the culture of big business. Joly is retiring in June as CEO of Best Buy, having steered the company through troubled times to $1.5 billion in quarterly profit.
In order to do that, he wrestled with The Death Star that, according to the new CEO, is really Best Buy’s biggest, single, biggest, biggest enemy. The retailer should ditch its arrogant attitude. The real destruction isn’t online or the competition from Amazon. It’s the executives who are too busy thinking about the next shiny computer that you can’t buy from them.
“In the late ’80s, early ’90s, people were really, really focused on how to get as much revenue out of the company as possible,” Joly said. “And at the top, we had executives who were more interested in the on-the-surface, quick gain.”
You know, the BlackBerry or what?
“The more I lived in that culture, the more I understood that culture. And you know, the process by which we grow as a business is by making great things that are meaningful, meaningful for people. So you know, there is great work to be done in the company,” Joly said. “And it’s working in Best Buy, which is why I joined.”