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Hubert Joly: Put your heart into your business

Former Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly shares lessons learned from reviving the retailer and why the workplace needs to evolve to be more employee-focused.

5 min read


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The smart money would have told Hubert Joly to run. And run fast. No one on the Street was bullish on Best Buy; in fact, there were zero recommendations to buy the stock. With its big brick-and-mortar footprint, Best Buy was viewed as unable to compete in a world of online commerce.

Joly did not listen. He became CEO in 2012. He actually became “CEO in training,” as it said on his employee badge. Joly spent the first week working the floor at a Best Buy store in St. Cloud, Minn. He went there to ask front-line employees for suggestions and what he could do to help.

The employees told him plenty. The answer was not to cut headcount; it was to mine the talent latent in the stores and at headquarters.

Joly, a native of France, tells the comeback story in his book, “The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism.” But the book, as Joly explained to me in an interview, is more than a feel-good story. Instead, it provides insights into how to engage the hearts, yes, and the emotions of others.

Fixing the company

“The world actually needed Best Buy,” says Joly. “As customers for some of our purchases, it’s good to be able to touch, feel the products, and talk to somebody. And then the vendors importantly needed Best Buy.”

In addition, vendors need Best Buy to showcase their products. “You cannot test the sound quality of a speaker online. You have to be in the room.”

Joly discovered something vital as he learned more about the company: “Why the company had many problems where we have strategic challenges, operational challenges, leadership, challenges, they were all self-inflicted.”

What Best Buy needed to do was not re-invent itself but re-commit itself to retail fundamentals: selection and margins. Solving that, they moved into purpose, what Joly calls the Noble Purpose: “the intersection of four circles: what the world needs, what you are good at, how you believe you can make a positive difference in the world, and how you can make money.” It enables people to feel they have a stake in the enterprise because management values them as contributors.

Putting self into purpose

Once Best Buy had tackled the fundamentals, it moved to purpose, and it did something bold. Closed the stores on a Saturday, and instead of dealing with customers, it dealt with itself. At every store, employees were invited to tell their personal stories and their ambitions. It was a way of building community.

And this was not a one-time event, per se; the idea of people sharing themselves is endemic throughout the company.

For example, Joly tells the story of a senior executive who told employees that she was struggling with depression due to her parents’ deaths. She spoke of her journey and, in doing so, made it acceptable for others to do the same: more specifically, to seek help for their own mental health. In this regard, the Noble Purpose becomes the enabler for people to bring their whole selves to work.

Work on self, too

Joly admits his shortcomings. “I was suffering from a disease, which was the quest for perfection. I thought I needed to be perfect. And that admitting a meeting that I didn’t know was the weakness. And I learned from a friend of mine that the quest for perfection is evil.”

It is much better to reveal that you do not have all the answers. We call it vulnerability, and, as Joly explains, it affirms the value of others on the team to solve the problems.

“People are going to respect you for that. And they’re going to love you for this because you know the only thing that’s real in life is human connections. And another word for that is love. You cannot love somebody who is perfect.”

Moving to stakeholder capitalism

The subtitle of “Heart of Business” tells its own story: “Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism.” As Joly explained to me, capitalism in its present state is not working. Shareholder value must become stakeholder engagement and reward.

One thing that Joly is most proud of is the state in which he left the company. His successor, Corie Barry, has shepherded the company even in the most difficult of times for retail.

“We are leaders of our own lives,” says Joly. “And so whether you are a leader within an organization, whether you sit on a board, whether you’re an investor, whether you’re a regulator, whether you are an educator, all of us can do our best to create this future that does not exist yet, but that needs to be better.”

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator, executive coach and the author of many books, including “GRACE; A Leader’s Guide to a Better Us,” “MOXIE, Lead With Purpose,” “Lead Your Boss” and “The Leader’s Pocket Guide.” In 2018, Trust Across America awarded Baldoni its Lifetime Achievement award for Trust. In 2019, Global Gurus ranked him No. 9 on its list of global leadership experts. Visit his leadership resource website.

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