Corie Barry is CEO of Best Buy Co. Inc., the leading provider of consumer technology products and services, with approximately 100,000 employees in North America and $47 billion in annual revenue. She also serves on the company’s board of directors. She has been with the company for more than 20 years and has held a variety of financial and operational roles across the organization, both in the field and at the corporate office.
Under Corie’s leadership, Best Buy is driving toward being one of the best places to work in America, doubling its significant customer relationship events to 50 million and growing annual revenue to $50 billion by fiscal 2025.
John Shegerian: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States, and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com.
John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. This is a very special and personal edition of the Impact Podcast. We’re so honored to have, with us today, Corie Barry. She’s the CEO of Best Buy. Welcome to the Impact Podcast, Corie.
Corie Barry: Thank you so much for having me. I’m super excited for the conversation.
John: You know, Corie before we get talking about all the great work that you and your colleagues are doing at Best Buy, can you share a little bit of your backstory in Minnesota?
Corie: Yeah, so I grew up in a small town in Minnesota, and I think anyone’s story really does fundamentally began with their parents in their upbringing, right?
Corie: My parents were self-employed artists, and they traveled the world, well, the country mostly. They did art fairs, and they started dragging me along with them at a really young age. The work ethic that my parents had really left a mark on me, and you would work 14 hours a day, physical labor, put up the booth, put up the stuff, talk to people all day long, take it all down, and do it again the next day. And I think that really early for me, work became more than just a nine-to-five.
Work was something you did because you cared, which was really the second thing I learned growing up with my parents. Work should be your representation, your legacy here on the planet. My parents believed strongly, art is what makes the world a better place. And therefore, that’s what they wanted to work their whole lives to provide. That example, I started doing that and then also started very young, like many of us working in a grocery store.
My parents didn’t have much money and so if I was going to do anything or have anything, I needed to earn it myself. And I think that combo platter of the work ethic of my parents but also really early learning I was going to pave my own way really had an impact on how I decided to try to journey from there.
John: Are they still alive? May I ask?
Corie: Yeah, you can ask. My dad is still alive. Interestingly, you won’t be able to see on the podcast, I’m pointing over my shoulder. I have a painting in my office.
John: I see it.
Corie: That painting is the last painting that my mom painted before she passed away. It’s the only unsigned painting, and I keep it in my office because, for me, it’s the reminder of what really matters in life. It’s kind of my daily reminder, especially in the Zoom world because I see it all the time.
Corie: You have choices about how you want to spend your days and what matters and the impact you want to leave, and that is my kind of constant daily reminder of how I make decisions.
John: How old was she when she painted that and why is it unsigned?
Corie: She was 54, and it’s unsigned because she had cancer, and this was the piece she was working on and did not finish. She’d never sign them until they were perfect. She would be so mad at me if she knew this painting was up in my office because it was just like for her, such a travesty if you had an unsigned piece. That meant it wasn’t done. And to me, that means the world.
John: But what a fantastic memory of your mother.
John: And also, what a metaphor for life because is our work and is our journey ever finished anyway?
Corie: That’s it, exactly. And it’s what I love so much about art. I am awful at any kind of art. I am a huge art aficionado because it is a physical representation of the human spirit to me, and that’s something that’s really important, I guess, for me to feel like I surround myself with every day.
John: Oh, that’s fantastic. So then, you grew up in Minnesota.
John: So you’re a Minnesota native.
Corie: I am a Minnesota native, and like many Minnesota natives, we don’t tend to leave this state. For reasons I cannot explain to you, we love this cold. I went to an all-women’s college here in Minnesota. And ultimately, we’re paired with a men’s school. It’s where I met my husband, we met very young.
I really enjoyed an all-women’s school which gave me a real point of view about women and empowering women. And I decided I was going to double major in accounting and business management. Now, this is typically where people say, “Your parents were artists, and then you decide to go accounting and business management.”
Corie: After that organic life with no money, never knowing where the next paycheck was going to come from, I think I just really craved this linear, straight, I knew I could provide for myself, and I knew I wouldn’t have this kind of anxiety that we lived with growing up when you just didn’t know where the money was going to come from. And so I started my career at audit like so many people come out of accounting. And like all the parts of our lives, I had two good lessons there.
I realized there’s work that you can do and be very good at but not enjoy. And I knew I could be good at auditing. It just gave me nothing back. And that was a big moment for me. I also don’t realize in the audit that I really do enjoy breaking the mold. There weren’t a ton of female auditors, particularly not on the big clients, and I liked all the places where I stood out. I felt like, that almost made me feel better and so it really solidified that for me.
But because I didn’t love the work, it was my first courageous moment that I’m sure you had too or many of us have had, where I left the company and I started at Best Buy in 1999. And I came here not because I loved, at the time, tapes or records, I came here because I interviewed with a woman that I really thought I could learn a lot from. And I just decided, well, I’ll try this. I’ll be there for a couple of years. I can really learn from her and then I’ll move along.
John: So when you were growing up, though, with your parents and having that fascinating experience traveling and the art world and, like you say, organic, besides your parents, outside of parents, what role models informed you about other opportunities in the corporate world?
Corie: Not a single one. In my life, I knew not one person who worked in corporate America. My parents were divorced when I was young, both remarried. And the other side of the family was all teachers, educators, and principals. I had a part of my family who worked in nursery, meaning raising plants and selling them off. It’s just this really interesting conglomeration of people, nobody with a business background.
And perhaps, that’s what appealed to me. Again, this idea of breaking the mold is something that starts early in me, and I’m sure my parents would say I was not an easy child to raise. But I think I just wanted to do something that no one else had, and I just decided to try it. But it is interesting when I look back and I think, well, what made me even think I could do that? I don’t know.
Corie: I don’t know.
John: So interesting. Now, you’re 1999 to 2021, the math is simple, so it’s almost 22 years now.
John: Fifteen different roles or so at Best Buy, and on June 11 of 2019, you were installed as the fifth CEO but the first woman CEO at Best Buy. Wow, what a journey and what an inspiration. I mean, you were one of the twenty-nine CEOs out of the Fortune 500. Women CEOs, now, you’re one of thirty-three. And you’re the youngest in the Fortune 100. Incredible, incredible.
Corie: Thank you. It is. When you say things like that, that’s when all my imposter syndrome just starts to flare and I go, “How did all that happen?” I often get asked, “When you started at Best Buy, did you think you would be CFO, or did you think you would be CEO?” And no, this was never the thing I wrote down on my development plan.
It was one of those interesting things that happened as I gained more experiences and really flexed my curiosity and decided to take risks and garnered this broader range of experiences. I just grew in my confidence and grew in my capabilities. And I love to learn, and so the more I just kept trying to learn more about this amazing business, the more I just was able to grow in my career.
And I think this place, it’s an amazing place, and I see it in our GMs all the time. At least 50% of our GMs, and I just had a GM panel yesterday, started their career as either part-time or seasonal workers. People don’t think about retail as the makers of careers, and this place makes careers.
John: That’s so fascinating. Like I shared with you off the air earlier, I have a thirty-four-year-old daughter now. Now, I have a one-year-old granddaughter. It’s just so hopeful and inspirational and aspirational to have someone as wonderful as you leaving such a huge brand, soon, $50 billion a year hopefully by 2025, and to have someone, not only a woman like you but young. And so people can feel so relatable to you because of who you are and how you built your career. Just amazing.
Corie: Well, thank you. Always what means the most to me is when someone like you says there’s someone in their life that’s important to them that I might be a role model for. And you never look at yourself in the mirror, I’m sure you feel this way too, you never look at yourself in the mirror and think, “I am a role model.” That’s not how it works.
John: Right, right.
Corie: But when you get that little note from someone or that little moment and they say you had such an impact or, “I believed I could because you did,” that’s really when it’s all worth it.
John: Right. I pulled a quote that you did when you were talking about advice to other women in business, “Make yourself uncomfortable and take sometimes the jobs that no one else wants. Go.”
Corie: It’s human nature, and it has been documented. We avoid discomfort. In our nature, we are trained to avoid discomfort. And so that means, when that next role comes up, you will internally debate, whether you even physiologically mean to or not, you will by your nature, you will debate, “Am I ready for this thing? Can I do this thing?” And you’re going to want to shy away from the discomfort of it. It is easier to stay in the orbit that you’re in.
But you, I’m sure you feel the same, every time I pushed myself to do the least comfortable thing, it often stretched me the most, I learned the most, and often propelled my career the fastest. But it’s really hard, and you have to work through mechanisms, I think, that helps you figure out, “How do I work myself past this place of discomfort?” And it still doesn’t mean you’re going to be comfortable on the other side, but at least, maybe you have an infrastructure in place to help you feel like you could be successful.
And so for me, of those fifteen roles or so that you talked about, I believe, last time I looked, ten of them didn’t exist before I stepped into them.
Corie: And so you get the chance to create a whole new role and have an impact that no one before you has had. And I think that’s really important. And then it’s also been well documented. Women, in particular, will not step forward to take that next role. And so how do you surround yourself with the right people who are going to give you the confidence or going to spend time with you to help you get ready for that next new role.
And I have been fortunate to have many mentors along the way. And many of them, men who helped me see what was unique about my skill-set and helped me have the confidence to put myself out there for that next role
John: When you were elected CEO, when the board elected you, what was the first phone call you made? How did it go?
Corie: It was to my dad. My dad’s the person who has always been there, and it always matters to me that he’s proud.
Corie: And I think it was a real moment of almost disbelief between the two of us, quite frankly. I’m not exactly sure how this happened, but here I am. And it just was such a full-circle thing for me. And you know why? Part of it is I also know I can take care of my dad now. And that’s really important to me as well. He sacrificed a lot to help raise me. And now, I have a chance to pay some of that forward. So it was a pretty special moment.
John: That’s a neat thing in your life.
Corie: It is an amazing day, and it’s incredibly overwhelming, the weight that literally, overnight, you feel on your shoulders in an organization with over a hundred thousand people. It’s also incredibly daunting. And I think if you don’t say that out loud if everyone just thinks it’s like, you wake up one day and you’re just confident and you’re super excited to be CEO, I’m honored but it is a lot of weight.
John: Not only is it a lot of weight with just the fiduciary responsibility that you have, the social and cultural responsibility that you have, but you’re also on a media platform now in terms of that’s much different than ever before.
John: When I was preparing for this, Corie, I was thinking about sort of your timeline and walking into that what was already a very daunting position. Then I started thinking about how did your first couple of years have really went and I just wrote down some notes. And I want to share with you how impressed I am by what you’ve done with Best Buy during these first couple of years because first, you had to fill this guy’s shoes. I mean, you have to step into Hubert Joly’s, your superstar predecessor, who you were part of his superstar’s turnaround story as well, but still, he’s one in a million, he’s a very unique human being. So just stepping into that shadow and those shoes is daunting beyond belief, I can imagine.
John: In March 2020, the pandemic hits. May 25, 2020, right in your hometown in Minnesota, we have the George Floyd tragedy that captures the world’s attention. January 26, the democracy is on a seesaw and on a worldview to watch. And this is your first couple of years running Best Buy as a young, unbelievably qualified CEO but during unprecedented times for reasons that are outside of your control. Now that we’re sort of coming through it in the aftermath and science, thank God it seems to be winning, share some of the lessons learned from any and all of those data points that you had to deal with that there was no road map or playbook for.
Corie: Yeah, the lessons learned are innumerable, honestly. And we could spend all day on this, but there are four big themes that, for me, have come out of all of the things that you talked about. The first is this idea of using others around you. The truth is when I was thinking about the CEO role, I was, what I like to call responsibly weary. Meaning, it’s a big job. And I spent a lot of time on the front side with Hubert as a partner, which was also a very helpful part of this, trying to think through what would need to be true for me to be successful.
So back to the question that you asked around taking the risky roles, instead of just saying no or I’m scared, we turned the question to what would need to be true for me to be successful? And a big part of that was, he’s so good at figuring out what makes me nervous. One day, we’re sitting in here and trying to think through it, and he has this huge laugh, I’m sure you heard it on the podcast when he did it. And he throws back his head, does this huge laugh, and he says, “You act like you have to do this job by yourself.”
And I think many of us have this conventional point of view about the CEO, like sitting in their office, slinging out orders. And that’s not how it works. And I had a very strong point of view going into the role and incredibly exacerbated by the pandemic or social unrest that you need to use all the smart people around you. My management team, my board, a lot of external experts in this case. Like, we didn’t have an epidemiologist on staff. A smart group of other CEOs who are coming together, a lot of consultants, who used well really can help you get smart about what’s happening in the world. All of those people, we used.
We used the ex-CFO here, the ex-CEO here, like the whole network of people. Never be so proud that you think you’re the only person who has the answer. And in every one of the instances that you talked about, using all those smart people around me to help inform and then make a call, that has been, by far in a way, one of the biggest learnings. And there isn’t a single decision I just sat here and made by myself.
John: That goes to your own brilliance and that you’ve put your ego, we all have egos, and you put your ego aside and you’re able to go out and ask for help. So many people in your type of role even are unable to ask for help, they feel it’s a sign of weakness, but you’ve, now, found that that’s a sign of strength.
Corie: Yeah. And again, that’s why I’m so happy I put the work in before taking the job because you just end up in such a better place. I always have a strong point of view. I’m sure you do. I always ask [inaudible], don’t get me wrong.
John: Right, right.
Corie: But I also often change it or at least, augment it because I talk to someone who comes from a different life experience than me or someone who just has knowledge I don’t. So that one’s a big one for me. The second one though is if you believe you’re doing that well, then the second thing that we did, collectively, very well in the pandemic is you push decisions down.
I can’t be making a thousand store-level decisions. And in the pandemic, you know different stores were open, closed, half-opened, trying to keep their people safe, sending people home, distribution centers were open, they were closed. And it-
John: You were dealing with all the different governors across America and coming up with different rules, so it was a patchwork quilt. There was no unity at that time.
Corie: It was impossible.
Corie: And so the more decisions to move with speed, the more decisions that you can push down deep into the organization and empower your people, it adds so much speed, flexibility, and then ingenuity to what you’re doing. My GMs, I would FaceTime our general managers in our stores and I would ask them. We flipped to the curbside only within a 48-hour window, and so close the store as you can only get our gear curbside. I would FaceTime with our general managers, and I’d say, “Well, how are you making it work?”
And I probably did fifty FaceTime calls within that first couple of month period, and every one of them was making it work differently. Not because we wrote an SOP, not because we were telling them how to do it, not because they were getting score-carded on it, they did it because it worked for them, their teams, and their communities. And for us, as an organization, when we think about what we take forward from here, you’ve got to push those decisions down wherever you can because the people closest to the work are going to make a better decision than you will from up here.
The third for us at Best Buy, we talked a lot about our purpose. Definitely, held at Hubert’s book, he started this work for us, but we have remained very focused on our purpose to enrich lives through technology. And in a crisis, your purpose becomes your lighthouse. And every day when we went back to why are we opening our stores or why are we still going into people’s homes, it’s because if you really believe you’re here to enrich people’s lives through technology, you’re going to try to find safe ways to do that because it’s important. And our teams then really knew, “No, we’re here for a reason. We’re doing this for a reason,” which helps. I provide, for them, the confidence and then frankly, just the dedication to drive through this.
And then finally, probably the most important learning is being authentic and honest. About four weeks into the pandemic, we had to furlough fifty thousand of our employees because our stores weren’t open. And what I elected to do was a video straight to each one of them and we shipped it out wherever we could. It actually got text-blown to their phone so they could see it from me personally. And I took full responsibility, and I also used an opportunity to be honest, to explain all the things that we were trying to address and the reason this was impacting them.
It didn’t make them like it any better, but it was our clear, honest, transparent, and in my case, authentic point of view about why we did it. And it wasn’t just a scripted conversation. It was me genuinely, emotionally trying to talk to them about it. And I do think in the pandemic, in particular, this idea of being really honest, telling people what you do know and what you don’t know and doing it in a way that’s authentic to who you are as a human, I think, is the only way you can resonate through the screens like this. I don’t know how else to do it.
John: Well, I think that’s unique. I don’t think everyone has that talent or ability, but you’re very relatable. You’re young. You’re a wife. You’re a mom. You’re also the CEO of a very huge brand that’s not only vital during the pandemic for all these reasons so we can have these Zoom calls and all state connected family-wise, business-wise, technologically wise, but also you thrive. You didn’t survive the pandemic, you figured out how to thrive. And that’s really unique. Hats off to you and your whole leadership and management team.
Corie: Thank you. It’s an exceptional team and a team that embodies diversity. It embodies the diversity of thought and background. And when we had, it meant we saw so many of the issues from different angles and we could have the hard conversation, make the quick decision, move along, and then iterate when we got it wrong. We also told employees really early on, we’re going to do some of this wrong, and so we need you to help us understand when it doesn’t work the way that it should.
John: There’s no way anyone could get it all right because there was no playbook. So that was great to just say that upfront because now, the elephant’s out of the room.
John: It’s great. Corie, I’ve heard you speak many times before. In one of your events that I was in, I heard you speak about inclusive leadership behaviors. Can you share that with our audience? Because I think there’s huge value to inclusive leadership behaviors.
Corie: I’m so glad you asked. I’m so passionate about this topic. So pre-pandemic, it was actually about six months before the pandemic, we were doing some work on how to create a truly inclusive environment. And one of the first things we did is we sat down with an inclusion and diversity expert, who does a lot of training and a lot of discussions with leadership teams, and she said something that really struck me. She said, “Maslow’s hierarchy.”
So most of us are retrained on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is your base needs are at the bottom of the pyramid all the way up to those exponential little needs at the top. The base of the pyramid used to be things like food, water, and air, like the real physical things that keep you alive. And she said research has now pointed to the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy is actually belonging, a sense of belonging, of knowing your place in the world, of feeling comfortable that you belong. And so we started to do research on, “Okay, what are the behaviors that, when executed beautifully, actually create a sense of belonging?”
And there are four that we ultimately landed on based on all the research that we did, and our own cultural beliefs, courage, empathy, vulnerability, and grace. And when you can exhibit that suite of behaviors, you tend to get to know others better, you tend to have harder conversations, you tend to have room to make mistakes, and therefore, you’re more willing to have those difficult conversations that will create and support a diverse workforce. And so we started practicing these behaviors. And in fact, they’re actually the behaviors that we talk to our board about when we talk about how our leaders are leading. We actually say, “Are they exhibiting these behaviors?”
So then, the pandemic hits. And could there be four more powerful behaviors than courage, empathy, vulnerability, and grace? When you’re dog is wandering in on the Zoom call and your kids have been learning out in the living room for three months they’ve had it, these are the behaviors we’ve all been exhibiting. And I think this idea of creating a place where you really can bring your whole authentic self to work has been incredibly powerful in the pandemic.
We had such a cool moment yesterday, we had a board meeting, and we had a panel with six of our general managers on it. And you and I both know, you never know how that’s going to go. Like the board’s going to ask in something, I have no idea what they’re going to answer.
John: Let’s roll on the dice there.
Corie: And I don’t care. I trust them implicitly, like, just tell the truth. That’s fine.
John: Right, right.
Corie: One of the general managers, he’s only been at Best Buy for three years, he came from another organization, and he said, “I was at that organization for ten years, and they would not let me talk about my sexual orientation. It was not permitted. And then I came here, and you all lifted up my story.” We had done a story on him and his life, “And you used my example across the organization. So you have no idea the lengths that I will go to to make this company successful because I feel like I belong.” And that, he said to our board. For me, it’s that moment that ties. You don’t just have behaviors like this because they’re nice and soft and squishy. You have them because you create a culture that is incredibly unique and keeps people tethered to your company.
John: And what you’ve done so well with your other leaders and your predecessors is you created that culture. So then, for the employees, it’s much more than work, it’s much more than a paycheck.
Corie: That’s it, and it has to be that. It always has to be more than about one singular leader or about one part of their job. You have to have this. We stay in these jobs because there’s some level of emotional attachment to them, there just has to be. Otherwise, there’s a lot of other things you can do in the world.
John: This is absolutely true. You mentioned the curbside during the pandemic and how fast you got it going and how successful was. I was in the audience at your keynote at CES when you gave the anecdote on your father, getting more comfortable with curbside in general during the pandemic.
John: How does that inform you? You have that amazing footprint that you’ve spoken about and now, you have this massive success that all of us in my generation, which is pretty much your dad’s generation, getting more comfortable with curbside. How does that inform you about the future of Best Buy, and how you’re going to drive future success at Best Buy?
Corie: Yeah, there are a few things that we believe will be lasting implications of the pandemic. So if I rewind the tape just a little bit, we had an investor day in the fall of 2019. And at that investor day, we laid out some hypotheses. And they were things like, “We think technology will be even more important in people’s lives, and we think people are going to shop more digitally, and supply chain is really going to matter. And oh, by the way, we think we have a leg up because we’re a true omnichannel retailer. And over time, digital penetration is going to grow.” And then we laid out targets for five years from now.
And then what happened? All those things came true at an incredibly exacerbated pace in the span of a year. Our digital penetration doubled in the span of a year. And we could still, on the back of the supply chain we built on our omnichannel capabilities, we could still deliver against that. And so I think the key for us is really acknowledging what has changed in the environment. And there are a few things that we believe.
One, we believe that the customer is in control, period, end of the story. They’re going to shop how they want. And you’re right. Because of the breadth and the depth of changed behaviors, we strongly believe more people will lead digitally. But they also will want that seamless physical experiential experience because that is important to them as well. And they also might want to chat, they might want to call, they might want us to come to their homes, they might want to do a virtual consultation. All of those opportunities have to be available. I’m not going to force you to do any one of those things. The customer needs to be in control.
And so what we are currently working through is, “All right. If the customer’s in control and every one of those experiences needs to be seamless, how do we evolve our store footprint to match that expectation?” Sixty percent of what we sold online was either picked up in a store or shipped from it. So you can’t just separate out and say, “Oh, you’re doing great digital work, we’re going to close stores.” That’s not how this works. Even shipping most of our gear the next day, we ship 90% of our gear the next day for free, still, 40% of people come into the store and pick it up because they want that. They want to come in, they want that sense of understanding where the high price point breakable gear.
And so we are now working on a range of experiences all the way from the really big experiential store. We have a test in Houston, which I just love the store because it’s gorgeous and it gives you goosebumps, all the way to stores that might be much more fulfillment-oriented. Quick for you to go curbside, quick for you to get Geek Squad service, quick for you to get those products you most often want.
And I don’t think it’s about less stores. I think it’s about your stores working differently and harder for you, and therefore, your employees are likely becoming much more flexible and working across multiple different roles and being able to fulfill wherever, again, that customer who’s in control wants to go. And so right now posthaste, those are the things we’re starting to build.
John: Serving your clients where they want to be served, not just where you just serve them, where it used to be old, just in an analog box. It’s much newer[?] now and you’re in the service business and you’re going to serve them.
John: That’s awesome.
Corie: And it’s hard. It is so exciting, and yet, it is such a fundamental change when you’ve been a big-box retailer who’s specialized in selling home theater as an associate or specialized in computing. And now, I might need to learn a bunch of different departments. But here’s the other thing we’re learning, is that as our associates garner more skills, we have specific skill sets and now, they’re able to add multiple skills, the customer experience goes up.
So we can see, if our employees have two or three skill sets, their associated customer experience scores, their MPS is higher than those who only have one skill set. So there’s something really interesting about the confidence that our employees can now earn by educating themselves and then how they can work across multiple pieces of the store flexibly. I think it could be just an incredibly powerful tool for us going forward.
John: And I bet you, it’s more interesting for them personally.
Corie: Totally. They get to write their career story the way that they want, not the way we did it.
John: For our listeners and viewers who just joined us, we’ve got Corie Barry today. She’s the first woman CEO of Best Buy, and we’re talking about all the great things that she’s doing at Best Buy with her colleagues and the future of Best Buy and how they’re going to continue to succeed.
Corie, let’s change topics a little bit. Talk a little bit about your fantastic board that you have put together, and the diversity on that board, and why diversity is so important to great leadership in any organization. Whether it’s publicly traded, privately held, an NGO, government, diversity is critical to the future of great leadership.
Corie: Yeah. Diversity is good for business.
Corie: I think sometimes, we start with diversity as a social imperative, which it is, let me be clear. We tend to start from a different place, which is time after time, study after study, it has been proven, diversity is good for business.
And so our board here, thanks partially to Hubert’s help and then I was able to continue to build on to the board, we have eleven members, five of them are women, over a third are people of color, and they come from a myriad of backgrounds and skillsets. Meaning, we have some people who are actually in health care because we’re setting up a healthcare business. We have some who have financial services and advertising backgrounds. A huge diversity of backgrounds.
And what that does for us as an organization is you push decision-making differently in every single case. I laugh sometimes because I will get asked, “Does your board mind when you speak up on social issues or do you run it by your board?” Yes, I absolutely leverage my board’s smart brains and they, typically, are going to push me harder than I will push myself because of their life experience and their backgrounds.
So just think about the doors that open up as a CEO. You have this incredibly supportive group. I don’t go to my board and just present. I use the smart brains in the room to make better decisions over time. And because they reflect our communities, I’m much more likely to make that right balance decision that really will do the best for the organization read large. My board’s a gift.
John: And also, what a richer journey for you, personally, along the way as well.
Corie: It’s so nice. There are people who have lived a life that looks more like yours. And all of us, who do you look for in the room? At least one other person who’s maybe a little bit like you. And so it matters.
John: It matters. I’ve been working with your great organizations since 2005 and it’s been part of your DNA and culture to be green, to be sustainable, and to be part of the circular economy. You were one of the first movers. So can you touch a little bit about what’s going on today in terms of the ESG Revolution? How Best Buy is doing so well in so many areas of green and sustainability and circular economy? Just for our listeners and viewers to just get a little taste and snippet of how culture and DNA-related ESG is at Best Buy.
Corie: Yeah. It’s interesting. I was having a lovely conversation with our founder. His name is Dick Schulze, and I still meet with him probably once every two months. And it’s important for me to understand just his thoughts, and he’s great about just helping to coach. But he knows I’m the decision-maker, so he’s another one of those people that I have a chance to [inaudible].
And he said something that I really thought was foundational. He said, “I love that ESG is just becoming important to our investors. But from day one, that’s how I ran this company. You put your employees first, you do what’s right for your customers, you invest in your communities, and at the end of the day, you will have wonderful financial returns. But you don’t start with the financial returns.” And for me, that was really poignant because it is so embedded in the fabric.
We may not have had the words and the reports around ESG, but the way he started the company, the values of the company were really embedded in this idea that if you treat your constituents well, at the end of the day, you will have outsized financial returns. And so that as our core, then we have just gotten smarter and smarter and pushed harder and harder to be able to have influence. And if I think about where you started, which is some of our environmental advocacy, we just believe it’s our responsibility.
Look, climate change is not good for any of us, it’s not good for business. So again, just from a business perspective, not because it’s socially right, from a business narrative, we need to make sure that we are doing what’s right for the environment. And our customers want to view us as a trusted partner. And more and more, these customers are looking to us to lead the way in terms of environmental advocacy or social advocacy.
And so we hold ourselves to a very high standard across all measures of ESG and we have very robust ESG reporting. And we want to lead. And so we were named this year, Barron’s Number One Most Stainable Company. That’s obviously done across a variety of vectors, but what made us really proud this year is that one of the factors that Barron has put in there was our COVID response, and they felt we had the number one COVID response that balance the safety of our employees and customers with our ability to sustainably grow the business.
I like how you asked, It’s not about any one part of ESG. It’s about kind of holistically creating a system that says we are here to do more than just make money. We are here to genuinely leave this world a better place.
John: And you do. And all of your colleagues, I know, were committed to that. I know that very personally having worked with you guys for sixteen years or so now, which leads into, I know, one of your favorite topics, the Teen Tech Centers at Best Buy. Talking about leaving the world a better place, there’s no greater example of Best Buy’s unbelievable work creating these Teen Tech Centers across America.
Corie: Yes. So first of all, this is where I get to thank you as an incredible, again, not just a business partner, but someone who equally believes that we are here to do bigger things together and therefore, is willing to invest. And that’s what makes this model actually work. The teen tech centers really are just about access in disinvested communities. And so if you think about this idea of having access, inspiration, support, and catching kids young.
So it’s an after-school program. We try to start in middle school. And it’s really done in partnership with community leaders, and we provide all the gear. It’s all the coolest technology, it’s all the mixing equipment, it’s 3D printers, it’s graphic design, it is an ability to edit and take music videos, it is all the coolest technology gear and, in a lot of cases, in communities where this gear is simply not available. Back to your question to me about, “Did you have corporate role models?” This is taking that question and trying to institutionalize, “No, we want you to have role models. We want you to have access. Because if you have access, then you start to have belief and you start to have confidence.”
And I think the thing that really makes this special is that it’s in partnership with existing community centers. This isn’t us stomping in and dropping in a box. This is, “No, we’re going to go to a community center, we’re going to help them with the infrastructure, and they’re going to be the ones who helped lead the program.” The other part of this that’s really important to me is that in these centers, we have mentors and coaches who are going to help guide young people. And it’s everything from, “How do I interview? What does a resume look like?” They may not have families who know how to set them up for collegiate testing or what post-secondary options might be available.
And this idea of not just we’re going to throw a bunch of stuff in a room and you’re going to play with it, but having people there to help them both technically learn but also just support them, and especially in the last sixteen months, support them in a time that might be exponentially difficult. That’s the magic of the Teen Tech Centers. And where we see, we see 50% higher graduation rates in programs like these. These are tangible outcomes that you can drive and deliver really differentiated experience for these kids.
John: How many Teen Tech Centers do you have now in the United States, and where do you want to take it over the next five to ten years?
Corie: Yeah. We have thirty-five Teen Tech Centers now and we announced a goal in December to have one hundred Teen Tech Centers by 2025. And it’s partners like you that are making it happen. The good news is I think especially given what we’ve seen in the last year, plus we’re seeing a lot of interest in programs like this.
John: Sure. Switching topics now to one of your biggest competitors, but also partners in many ways, Amazon. And you have this wonderful footprint that you’ve leveraged over the years to have e-waste drop-off centers at your stores, and you’ve recycled tens of millions of pounds of electronics over the last twelve to fifteen years. Talk a little bit about that relationship with your customer base and how recycling was actually really great for business.
Corie: Since 2009, we have recycled 2 billion pounds of product. And I think this is one of those places where back to this point around environmental advocacy is our responsibility. This felt like the place that especially back in 2009, people just did not understand the damage that was being done. And for us, again, if you believe your purpose is to enrich lives through technology, that doesn’t mean I sell you stuff. That means I’m there for the life cycle of how you want to use technology in your life. And this is a really important part of the life cycle.
And the interesting part about this is, it’s also a really good business decision. I’m solving a customer problem. You know it as well as I do. Customers are sitting on gear, they know they shouldn’t just throw it in the trash. They have no idea what to do with it. And so, instead of seeing recycling as a problem, we saw it as a differentiated customer experience that can help solve an issue for them and that then we can responsibly find partners like you that we know we can trust to take care of this gear in a really responsible way. It’s not just going into pits in the middle of nowhere. This is gear that’s really going to be taken care of responsibly.
And so this wasn’t just you just do it because you have to do. No, you do it because it’s differentiated, it keeps the customer coming back, you solve real problems. And then on top of that, you also know now we have a really nice trade-in infrastructure where if it’s not ready for recycling, you can trade that product in, it can be sold in another market, and you get more value for your next gear. So this, I think there’s real power in thinking, “I’m not just here to sell you askew. I am here to help you use your tech throughout its lifecycle.” And this is just an important part of the life cycle.
John: Yeah, and tying that to, again, your ESG credibility, which is massive, it’s so funny to watch so many huge brands scramble to catch up on ESG. Meanwhile, you’ve been leading on it. Like Dick said, from the beginning of the advent of the company, puts you in a great position. Talk a little bit, though, about the layover trend that we’re all dealing with. Obviously, you’re dealing with both at the C-suite level and at the client level, this macro trend of cybersecurity and data that’s also in our electronics. And how are you dealing with that as a C-suite issue and then also thinking about it with regards to your clients as well?
Corie: I’m actually going to start with the client-side of things because you can imagine we get a lot of products back that might have data and information on it. Again, this is where our infrastructure is a really powerful tool. We have twenty thousand Geek Squad agents who are trained not just to repair but they know how to wipe things clean. Really early on, one of the things we created was real protocols, whatever the devices, because let’s remember, almost all the devices now are connected.
Almost all have some kind of password buried in there somewhere, even our TVs, right? I have about seven streaming services, seven different passwords. All those things need real thoughtful protocols. And so you want to go somewhere you respect and use a partner that you know if you’re going to return, recycle, drop off any product like that. And so for us, a real differentiator. And of course, we don’t about it every single day, but we always remind people, we will safely help you dispose of your products. And I think that’s really important.
At the C-suite level, the amount of work that we have done as a company to protect both the company but importantly, our customer’s information is incredibly immense. It’s been one of the largest investment areas we have as a company. And it’s hard, right? This isn’t something that returns for you every day. And one of the things that we have done is we’ve actually attached dollars to risk levels so that we can say, “I may not make more because I have great cybersecurity processes in place, but I avoid this risk profile over here.”
And I think, for us as leaders, it’s made it very clear just how large an impact it can be to your business when you lose your customer trust because you haven’t put the right protocols and procedures in place. And so we do tabletop exercises. We do like so many other people really intense phishing exercises. And we have an incredibly dedicated and educated team who’s working those front lines for us every single day.
John: Corie, we’re down to the last couple of minutes or so, I’d love you to share, what’s the future? I mean, you’ve now made it the first couple of years, probably the most fascinating, difficult years I’ve ever seen in my fifty-eight years on this planet, and you’ve navigated it brilliantly. There’s no better word than just saying you navigated this last two years brilliantly. As the CEO and leader of Best Buy, where’s the future? Where are you driving the future for yourself personally and also Best Buy?
Corie: I could not be more excited for this company. One of the things that are so cool about what we do at Best Buy and nobody else does it, we have all the tech gear for your life. And there are two things we do better than anyone else on the planet. We inspire and we support. We can paint you the total picture of what that tech could do for you, and we’ll be there to make sure it works and does all the things you wanted to do. And nobody else across ecosystems, across all the different devices, across all the different technologies, nobody else can do that for you.
And we have a workforce now that is being unleashed in new and amazing ways across all of our channels to be the only person who can do that for you over time. And now, with the install-base of consumer electronics that were seeing, given the life that we’ve all lived for the last sixteen months, everyone is living their lives on the back of technology. And those behaviors will be sticky and they won’t change, so it just puts us in such a unique and I think incredible position.
And the truth is this story isn’t about me. This story has to be about this amazing place. And I’ll just end with one thing, I believe my purpose on this earth, we talk a lot about our individual purpose here at Best Buy, is one of stewardship. And that is I just want to leave a place a little bit better than when I found it. And one of the things that makes me most proud is that this team, united, working every day, has somehow found a way, already, to leave this place, I think, a little bit better than when we all found it. And that makes me happy.
John: You know, I was getting ready for today’s interview and my wife said, “You seem a little nervous.” I said, “I’m not nervous per se, but I’m excited because I want this to go really right.” She goes, “That’s great.” And she goes, “Tell me why?” So I said, “Because of the sixteen hundred interviews I’ve done, maybe this is the only one that I’m going to make sure my daughter watches and hopefully, one day, my granddaughter watches.”
I’ve done a lot of interviews with a lot of new people, Corie, but you are super special. You’re inspirational. You’re making an impact. You give a whole another generation of women around the world real hope and guidance that they can, one day, be you if that’s what they want to be. And for that, I’m very grateful. I’m grateful for you taking all the time out of your very busy schedule to share some of your thoughts with us today. I’m also thankful to you for just the image that you’ve left and the impact you’re making because my granddaughter, one day, is going to look up to someone like you and say, “I want to be like her as well.”
Corie: Well, those words mean more than anything else, so thank you.
John: You’re always welcome back here. I hope to see you in person in the not too far distant future. And again, thanks for spending time with us today on Impact Podcast, Corie Barry.
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