The news that troubled Best Buy has a new CEO who is heralded as a “turnaround specialist” comes as no shock. The company is in a heap of trouble for many reasons – competition from brands like Amazon as well as corporate leadership that has at best been questionable.
So Hubert Joly, a French executive, will come to Minneapolis from the global hospitality company, Carlson (also in Minnesota), in the hope of getting Best Buy going again. One of his techniques of turning a company around is unique in this world where corporate CEOs are best known for making the decisions from the corner office.
But before he starts issuing orders on a grand scale, Joly is going to don the blue shirt and hit the floor as a Best Buy salesman. Along the way, he will learn how to interact with customers, work the stock room, handle transactions, and even make house calls with the Geek Squad.
As he told Reuters, “The last time I worked in a store was in 1975. I want to not learn our businesses from the headquarters. I want to learn them from the front line.”
Imagine that – a new CEO who doesn’t have all the answers and wants to experience what it’s really like to work at his new company and serve its customers.
This story took me back to my very first week at Frank N. Magid & Associates, the Marion, Iowa-based media research company that continues to be a leader in its field more than three decades after I spent my time there.
When I entered the ranks of the Magid research team, I had a solid background in audience surveys, having designed and implemented studies for a number of commercial and college broadcasters. But at Magid, we were required to go into the field and actually conduct in-home interviews (that’s how we did them in those days – 45 minute interviews on the front porch with a respondent). In addition, I spent entire days in the coding department, with the secretaries who laid out the studies for print, and even with the keypunchers as we entered data from completed questionnaires.
In short, my bosses at Magid knew that investing time on the front lines was an important part of gaining a 360° understanding of the business and the processes that were required in successfully designing and producing research. And before I wrote my first questionnaire and presented my first study, I had to experience the entire process, wearing the shoes of all the various folks on the team who made it possible.
There are many things I did very early in my career that I have totally forgotten about. But that intensive Magid “boot camp” training is still a vivid memory. It gave me a sense of respect and empathy for what the rest of the company was about – the people who supported the core processes that made Magid an iconic research shop.
Those same values are what Hubert Joly is seeking to understand at Best Buy – and it’s a process that every station manager, RVP, and CEO should consider learning – or re-learning. The TV show, Undercover Boss, attempted to do that same thing every week as high ranking executives spent time doing entry level tasks.
Because life inside a radio station has changed radically in just the past few years, spending time with sales people making calls, doing an airshift, and working a promotion or event are the kinds of activities that would bring the operation home to senior executives in a meaningful and significant way.
Hubert Joly has a Herculean task ahead of him, trying to morph and adapt a traditional retail business into a viable consumer electronics service and sales winner. He’s doing this at a time when comparison shopping is being done in real time on mobile devices, often while customers are standing in his own stores. Fighting and adapting to the disruptive winds of change are tough tasks.
Not dissimilar from what’s on every broadcast CEO’s plate right now.
There’s value to being on the front line.