Best Buy stays a leader on hir­ing women ex­ecs

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - MUTUAL FUNDS - KAVITA KU­MAR

It’s a sig­nif­i­cant change for a com­pany long dom­i­nated by men, as well as a stark con­trast to the head­lines com­ing out of Sil­i­con Val­ley these days, where re­cent sex­ual ha­rass­ment scan­dals at places such as Uber have given the tech in­dus­try a rep­u­ta­tion for hos­til­ity to women.

MIN­NEAPO­LIS — Corie Barry never saw her­self in one of the top jobs at Best Buy.

That be­gan to change in the fall of 2012 when she met her new boss at the na­tion’s largest elec­tron­ics chain. Barry was a vice pres­i­dent at the time, wait­ing to meet the com­pany’s next chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer and fully ex­pect­ing a man in a suit.

In­stead, she did a dou­ble take when the pe­tite Sharon McCol­lam breezed in, wear­ing an im­pec­ca­ble dress and de­signer shoes along with an air of con­fi­dence and friend­li­ness.

“I lit­er­ally thought I might run up and hug her,” said Barry, 42, in a re­cent in­ter­view over sushi at the com­pany’s sub­ur­ban Min­neapo­lis head­quar­ters. “I felt like my whole life had changed.”

In many ways, it did. McCol­lam, who be­came a key fig­ure in Best Buy’s sto­ried turn­around, im­me­di­ately saw po­ten­tial in Barry and be­gan groom­ing Barry to be her suc­ces­sor. Last year, when McCol­lam re­tired, Barry re­placed her as the CFO of the $40 bil­lion com­pany.

Soon af­ter, Barry was stunned to dis­cover she was one of only about 70 fe­male CFOs in the For­tune 500, or less than 15 per­cent. It was a stark re­minder of how much of a glass ceil­ing re­mains in the ex­ec­u­tive suites and board­rooms of cor­po­rate Amer­ica. While grow­ing in num­ber, there are still only about 32 fe­male CEOs among the na­tion’s largest 500 com­pa­nies.

“It re­ally blew my mind when I first looked up the stats,” Barry said at a re­cent women-in-busi­ness event in Min­neapo­lis.

But it’s been a dif­fer­ent story at Best Buy in re­cent years. Barry is part of a ma­jor sea change in the re­tailer’s C-Suite, where women now hold nearly half the po­si­tions — and at times have out­num­bered men. And 40 per­cent of Best Buy’s board mem­bers are women, com­pared with the na­tion­wide av­er­age of 20 per­cent.

In ad­di­tion to match­ing on­line prices and part­ner­ing with some of the tech in­dus­try’s big­gest brands, com­pany ex­ec­u­tives and in­dus­try an­a­lysts say a key in­gre­di­ent of Best Buy’s turn­around has been build­ing a di­verse and high-cal­iber lead­er­ship team.

“It’s no ac­ci­dent that it had a good num­ber of women on it,” Best Buy CEO Hu­bert Joly said. “For us, it’s part of our se­cret weapon.”

It’s a sig­nif­i­cant change for a com­pany long dom­i­nated by men, as well as a stark con­trast to the head­lines com­ing out of Sil­i­con Val­ley these days, where re­cent sex­ual ha­rass­ment scan­dals at places such as Uber have given the tech in­dus­try a rep­u­ta­tion for hos­til­ity to women.

In her role as CFO, Barry has found her­self in high de­mand as a speaker. With a “lean in”-type spirit, she has been en­cour­ag­ing women to have more con­fi­dence in them­selves and be more coura­geous in ar­tic­u­lat­ing their am­bi­tions.

And she speaks pas­sion­ately about the im­por­tance of hav­ing not just men­tors, but spon­sors, who will lift you up and chal­lenge you at the same time, as McCol­lam did for her.

“Sharon was equal parts ad­vo­cate and critic in all of the best pos­si­ble ways, be­cause she was from day one hell-bent on try­ing to help me ad­vance my ca­reer,” Barry said. “But she knew that in or­der to do that, there’s go­ing to need to be some tough con­ver­sa­tions and hard feed­back along the way.”

The feed­back was of­ten im­me­di­ate and some­times painful to hear, such as be­ing told not to play with her hair in meet­ings or pushed to some­times be the one with a more con­tro­ver­sial point of view in the room.

“Once I got my head around it, it was so in­cred­i­bly use­ful,” Barry said. “I think she al­ways had big­ger dreams for me than maybe I even had for my­self.”

For her part, McCol­lam said she knew she was only go­ing to be at Best Buy for three to four years. Barry was the ob­vi­ous choice to re­place her, she said, be­cause of her deep un­der­stand­ing of the busi­ness, abil­ity to “see the big pic­ture be­yond the num­bers,” will­ing­ness to keep learn­ing, in­tegrity and love of peo­ple.

And she proved her­self to be a star per­former, McCol­lam said in an email.

McCol­lam said she learned first­hand how im­por­tant it is to have ad­vo­cates in ad­vanc­ing her own ca­reer, though in her case they were never other women.

“There was no greater priv­i­lege in my ca­reer than to do ev­ery­thing in my power to see that such an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­ec­u­tive and com­pas­sion­ate per­son achieve their pro­fes­sional dream,” she said of Barry.

When Joly ar­rived as CEO in Septem­ber 2012, there were only two women in Best Buy’s C-Suite. The com­pany was in the midst of a cri­sis, not only as it grap­pled with the Ama­zon fac­tor, but also as it re­cov­ered from the de­par­ture of the com­pany’s pre­vi­ous CEO, Brian Dunn, who stepped down af­ter it was re­vealed he had an in­ap­pro­pri­ate re­la­tion­ship with a fe­male em­ployee.

Joly im­me­di­ately set a new tone from the top.

“He was as out loud as I’ve ever heard any leader be about the im­por­tance of di­ver­sity on a lead­er­ship team,” said Barry, not­ing that he quickly backed it up by pick­ing McCol­lam as one of his first key hires.

While em­pha­siz­ing that it’s broader than just gen­der, Joly says he’s al­ways seen di­ver­sity as an “es­sen­tial el­e­ment” of cor­po­rate suc­cess in bring­ing dif­fer­ent skills and styles to the ta­ble. Part of his view was in­formed by his back­ground at McKin­sey & Co., which has done many stud­ies show­ing mul­ti­ple ben­e­fits from hav­ing a di­verse lead­er­ship team, and at Min­nesota-based ho­tel com­pany Carl­son, where he worked with prom­i­nent fe­male lead­ers such as Mar­i­lyn Nel­son.

To­day, other top fe­male ex­ec­u­tives at Best Buy in­clude Shari Bal­lard, pres­i­dent of mul­ti­chan­nel re­tail; Kamy Scar­lett, who was re­cently pro­moted to hu­man re­sources chief; and Tr­ish Walker, head of ser­vices.

Barry ad­mits it was daunt­ing to re­place McCol­lam, who was con­sid­ered a rock star by Wall Street. So much so that when the com­pany an­nounced her de­par­ture and Barry’s pro­mo­tion last year, the stock tum­bled 7 per­cent. Barry took a screen­shot of the stock drop that day and keeps it in her of­fice.

Now Barry is try­ing to pay it for­ward. She is ex­ec­u­tive spon­sor of Best Buy’s Women’s Em­ployee Net­work, an in­ter­nal group that sets up men­tor­ing cir­cles and holds an an­nual sum­mit.

The com­pany still has a ways to go, she said, es­pe­cially in re­cruit­ing more women to don blue shirts in its stores, where the work­force tends to be male-dom­i­nated.

Al­li­son Peter­son, pres­i­dent of e-com­merce at Best Buy, said Barry has al­ready be­come a role model for many young peo­ple within the com­pany. Not only do peo­ple re­spect her be­cause she’s smart and has risen through the ranks, but she’s ap­proach­able and gen­uine, she said.

“She in­spires a ton of peo­ple,” Peter­son said. “Ev­ery time they hear her speak, they leave in awe.”

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