Best Buy CEO
Before being ranked by Fortune Magazine as one of the ten most influential women alive, Best Buy CEO Corie Barry was growing up on ten acres surrounded by cornfields, eight miles west of Cambridge, Minnesota. Her father Ken is a Vietnam veteran and shortly after returning stateside from the war, he protested America’s involvement in the conflict whilst also launching a career as an artist.
Following her parents’ divorce when she was three, Barry started living with her father full-time – her mother moved away to Texas. “My dad remarried and my dad and my stepmom were self-employed artists,” she says. “My mom [stepmom] was in ceramics and my dad was in leatherwork. We traveled the country, schlepping our wares – literally boxes full in this conversion van we’d drive.”
Upon arriving at each sparsely scattered midwestern show, they’d start setting up around five in the morning, work all day long selling art pieces, and break things down about ten at night. “She was always able to communicate with adults,” Ken recalls, glowing at how well his daughter could sell crafts when she was just 12 or 13 years old. “She would murder those guys when they’d come into my booth.”
Putting in 14-hour workdays to the tune of inconsistent pay instilled within Barry at an early age the idea that work is more than a nine to five job, it’s something a person does because they care, and it’s ultimately a physical representation of somebody’s earthly legacy.
Never quite knowing where or who the money meant to keep her family moving along would come from made Barry a bit uneasy. Thus, these days, when people ask how she ended up on her career path, Barry responds, “I think it’s because I so craved a life that was almost the antithesis of my parents’ life that every ounce of my energy went into figuring out how I could have this more structured life.”
Her rural childhood back on the sizeable lot she called home was filled with bike riding down dirt country roads, adventuring through the forest, searching for frogs near ponds, reading, and really any activity a starry-eyed youngster could imagine. Living so far beyond the lights of town often required her to spend afternoons entertaining herself.
“I had a really hard time, as a lot of kids do, in that middle school age range and especially in that 11-13 age range. I was struggling to stay organized, I was super stressed out with school because I couldn’t figure out how to get all of my things where they needed to be. I was struggling a little bit even with self-confidence,” Barry admitted to a local paper, adding that Chris Miller, a longtime teacher within Cambridge-Isanti Schools really took her under wing.
Miller invested extra effort into helping Barry consider things such as how does one best organize themself, how does one set themself up to be as prepared as possible, and what are the most important take away’s from class.
“Frankly, she gave me a dose of self-confidence,” Barry continues. “That age, in particular, it’s really easy to lack confidence, and a lack of belief in yourself, especially as a young girl, and that extra attention that she paid to me was so incredibly important and she stayed with me in some way, shape or form.”
Cambridge High School
Armed with a reinvigorated sense of capability, Corie Barry academically excelled throughout her Cambridge High School existence; she played volleyball and ran track for the bluejackets, was usually on the honor roll (ultimately admitted to the National Honor Society), and worked at a neighborhood County Market grocery store.
Despite her parents earning so little money she received free school lunches and frequently wore the same patched-up jeans, Barry sought to make the most of her financially limited circumstances.
“It never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t go to college,” she explains on The Ascent Podcast with Joe Burgess. “One of the things that became very apparent to me early on is that I needed to literally dominate in school, have the best grades, and stand out in every way I could…I just decided that my portfolio would be so good I could get scholarships and grants and almost uniquely, I knew that my parents were so poor that it would move me to the front of the line for some of the opportunities that existed.”
Corie Berry graduated from Cambridge High School in 1993.
The College of Saint Benedict
Although she originally planned on attending another university, upon perusing its campus, she fell in love with and ultimately enrolled in courses at the College of Saint Benedict. For contextual purposes, this roman catholic bastion of higher education offers programs to meet the needs and aspirations of young women, emphasizing women’s leadership and a personal development profile that includes intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and physical development.
A few things that stood out to Barry, in particular, were the professors and their hands-on approach, dedication, and commitment to her success, the ample opportunities to improve and get coached on writing and speaking skills, and the honors program that pushed her to delve more deeply into a broad range of topics.
Living on-campus taught her the power of having an amazing group of women just outside her door 24 hours a day, regarding these college years, she also adds that having a job in public affairs at the school “created an insane desire to edit everything I do multiple times.” She and her teammates on the women’s rugby team journeyed to a national championship and experienced all the drive, determination, and desire such an accomplishment requires.
After turning in one essay during freshman year – on an admittedly controversial subject: what she thought was expected of her following every rule of the law – she remembers being handed back a paper covered in more red “feedback” than she had ever received in her short paper writing career.
“It was not red because Jeff [a teacher] disagreed with my point of view,” she discloses during a keynote commencement speech at her alma mater. “It was red because my point of view was woefully light on critical thinking, falling back on years of what I thought I was supposed to do. I became a better student and leader because these professors pushed me to think critically and courageously express my thoughts.”
Although she originally started off studying chemical engineering, Corrie Barry ultimately double majored in accounting and management and graduated from the College of Saint Benedict in 1997.
The Career of Corie Barry
Fresh out of college, Barry began a career in public accounting with Deloitte and Touche LLP and achieved her CPA certification. In 1999, she had an interview on Best Buy’s corporate campus with a company representative named Anne Loughrey and was so blown away by the woman’s compassion and competence that right there, she decided to leave her accounting job to learn from and work within the inspiring culture at Best Buy.
“Right from the get-go, she was one of those people who could grasp a lot of data. She had the ability to take in so much information and really come away with insights,” said Loughrey, Corie’s first boss at Best Buy. “I was basically just predicting when she would be my boss.”
Barry started out as a Financial analyst and would work her way through a slew of primarily finance roles including merchant finance support, enterprise financial planning and analysis, retail finance support (which also led to a more operational role running the Geek Squad for the western half of the US for a year), and marketing, online and services finance support.
This depth of experience led to her being named the SVP of Domestic Finance, reporting directly to the CFO. At the same time, these diverse operational finance support roles also uniquely positioned her to help the company’s CEO when the existing president of Services left and he subsequently asked her to step in temporarily and run that business.
Next, she was promoted out of finance and into the newly-created Chief Strategic Growth Officer position, while still temporarily running services. “I’ve never allowed myself to be put in a box,” she says. “I’m not just a finance person or I’m not just an operations person or just a strategy person, I genuinely believe in making myself uncomfortable. I think it is important that you make yourself uncomfortable.”
Early on in her career, Corie Barry received a memo labeling her as “a risk to the organization.” She took the news pretty rough over the following couple of days but ultimately decided, rather than leaving for another company, she’d acknowledge that somewhere in the assessment was a nugget of truth, upon which she could continue improving her professional identity and career.
“I buckled down and said [to myself], ‘what are those attributes that might be leading to me being seen as a risk and how do I proactively push myself against those and try to come out the better side a better leader,'” Barry explained during a Fortune speaking event. “In the next leadership assessment, I brought my own development plan. I said, ‘I hear you, here are all the things I’m working on, and here’s where I’ve made progress.'”
A Company On the Brink of Ruin
September 2012 marked a low point for Best Buy, by both Wall Street and internal moral standards. For starters, the tech retailer’s stock was in the dumps at $17.85 per share, precipitously down from $40 per share just two years prior.
The decreased share value embodied a slew of problems Best Buy was immersed in – these ranged from rapidly declining sales to intense competition from online retailers such as Amazon.com to the scandalous departure of former CEO Brian Dunn on allegations of inappropriate conduct. Also, there was a buyout attempt by the founding chairman.
“It’s difficult when you’re at an organization that you fundamentally believe can do amazing things for people and yet at the same time has made so many mistakes,” Corie Barry shares. “For me, in 2012, it was so frustrating to know we could be doing so much better. Then in the Fall of 2012, Hubert Joly came in [as the new CEO]… and literally probably one month and fifteen meetings in, I thought, well now here’s a breath of fresh air.”
Hubert Joly, a man with no previous retail experience, is largely credited for saving Best Buy from near-certain financial ruin. He and his new executive team set the company on a strategic path toward revitalization known as the Renew Blue initiative. The plan called for strengthening relationships with vendors, revamping stores, increasing same-store sales, eliminating unnecessary costs, and ramping up Best Buy’s online business.
“The first couple years were brutal,” Barry remembers. “The operating income rate shrunk to almost nothing, the comps weren’t there, it’s not like we made all those decisions then magically the next day the stock was great.” As a matter of fact, the stock plunged even further, to $11.67 come December 2012.
Renew Blue Initiative
By January 2013 the company had excellent news to announce: Compared with the previous year, their sales were flat. “Flat sales! We were thrilled! It was far better than the slump analysts expected,” Joly said in a self-penned Wall Street Journal article documenting Best Buy’s turnaround. “It suggested that we had stopped the hemorrhage. The share price started to recover. We had turned a corner. The change of mood within Best Buy was palpable.”
The resurgence blossomed as the company shed non-core assets, in fiscal 2014 alone, it reduced costs by $350 million by closing underperforming stores, shrinking its workforce, and making supply chain efficiencies.
Best Buy selectively closed some 50 stores between 2014 and 2018, exited a European retail joint venture in 2013; sold off its stores in China in 2014; and in 2018 killed its Best Buy Mobile business, closing the remaining 257 small standalone stores, according to Twin Cities Business.
In May 2016, it was publicized that Corie Barry would be replacing Sharon McCollam as Best Buy CFO, effective June 14. “Corie has been my strategic right-hand partner since I joined Best Buy,” McCollam wrote in a statement. “With her exceptional financial acumen and deep understanding of Best Buy’s operations, she has been an influential leader over the financial and cost disciplines that have been established across the company over the past several years.”
Best Buy’s 2016 annual report documented the second year in a row the company had increased domestic revenue and expanded operating margin. Additionally, online domestic revenue grew 13% to more than $4 billion, or 11% of total domestic revenue.
From the start of Joly’s tenure as CEO through June 2019, Best Buy’s shares soared 330% from $20 to about $68 – the S&P 500 rose 111% during the period – and in the quarter ending May 2019, the 125,000-employee electronics retailer had earned a 3% net profit margin, Bloomberg noted.
Best Buy Chief Executive
In May 2019, the board made public that by June, Hubert Joly, who led the company through a successful turnaround over seven years, would become executive chairman as part of a planned leadership transition. The board appointed Corie Barry to be his successor as Best Buy CEO, effective June 11.
“I love this company, and I mean it when I say that it feels like family,” she said following the news. “The amount of humility I feel stepping into this chair is immense and, at the same time, it’s balanced with a true sense of excitement. I am proud of the work we are doing.”
As a member of the executive team, Corie worked closely with Hubert to help set the vision for the future, which is anchored in the company’s purpose to enrich lives through technology.
“Corie is a wonderful human being and a very human leader who can build connections with a variety of leaders and individuals across the company,” Hubert said. “This combination of technical skills and great human leadership capabilities and humanity is something I’ve long admired about Corie and gives me enormous hope in the future.”
The Pandemic’s Effect
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, Best Buy set three guiding principles, upon which they made decisions day to day as more information regarding the virus became known, they involved: the overall health and safety of employees and customers, protecting the employee experience as much and for as long as possible, and coming out of the pandemic, not just a vital company but a vibrant one.
Safety top of mind, Barry made the decision to voluntarily close the company’s 1,000 stores across the country and leave them open to curb-side service only. This move may have put the company at a major disadvantage as consumers flocked to other chains that sold electronics like Walmart and Costco, or ordered online from Amazon.
According to CNN, within 48 hours, her team raced to convert stores that were designed as sleek blue showrooms to spotlight the latest gadgets and televisions into outposts for shoppers to scoop up their online orders without getting out of their cars. Best Buy’s stores also would serve as fulfillment centers to ship online orders to customers’ homes.
“When we reopened our doors, we were one of the first retailers to mandate masks when shopping in our stores,” she explains in a statement dated June 2021. “We gave extra appreciation pay to our employees working on the front lines, increased the minimum hourly starting wage to $15 per hour, and offered all hourly full time and part employees a one-time gratitude bonus as a thank you for everything they’ve done to serve our customers.”
For more details about how Best Buy CEO Corie Barry has guided the company through the pandemic, check out her recent interview below with Yahoo Finance:
Continued Growth Under Corie Barry
In its results for the Fiscal Year ended January 30, 2021, Best Buy reported $47.2 billion in annual revenue, up from $43.6 billion the year before and $42.8 billion the year before that. Since Corie Barry became CEO, the company’s stock value has risen from around $65 a share to $110.89 per share as of October 2021.
The Richfield-based electronics retailer reported revenue of $11.6 billion in the first quarter of its 2022 fiscal year, which ended May 1, 2021. That marked a 37.2 percent jump over the same quarter last year, notes Twin Cities Business. Online sales also made up 33.2 percent of Best Buy’s quarterly domestic sales. That’s up from pre-pandemic levels of around 15 percent, but it’s also lower than company execs had planned.
“For the year, we have updated our working assumption regarding the mix of online sales, and now expect it to be in the mid-30 percent range from our original expectation of approximately 40 percent,” Barry said. “Nevertheless, clearly the pandemic has accelerated the evolution of customer shopping behavior.”
In February of this year, USA Today reported that Best Buy could close more stores than usual as the shift to online shopping accelerates with people more reluctant to venture indoors. The company has approximately 450 leases coming up for renewal in the next three years or an average of 150 each year.
“As part of the review process, we have closed approximately 20 large-format locations each of the past two years and expect to close a higher number this year,” Barry said in an earnings call. “We have also been reducing the length of our average lease term, which will continue to provide us flexibility.”
Expanding into Health Care
Best Buy signed an agreement to acquire Current Health in October 2021, the company is a leading care-at-home technology platform that brings together remote patient monitoring, telehealth, and patient engagement into a single solution for healthcare organizations.
Bringing quality healthcare into the home has become an increasingly important part of the healthcare system, often allowing patients better access and quality of life while helping to reduce costs. This trend has accelerated the reliance on the consumer-friendly technology that Best Buy offers, allowing the company to play an even more crucial role in bringing virtual care to life.
“The future of consumer technology is directly connected to the future of healthcare,” said Deborah Di Sanzo, President of Best Buy Health. “We have the distinct expertise in helping customers make technology work for them directly in their homes and by combining Current Health’s remote care management platform with our existing health products and services, we can create a holistic care ecosystem that shows up for someone across all of their healthcare needs.”
The consumer electronics retailer already owns businesses that operate in the space. It acquired GreatCall in an $800 million deal in 2018. The company makes easy-to-use cell phones and connected health devices, and provides emergency response services for aging adults. It acquired another senior-focused company, Critical Signal Technologies, in 2019.
“Our purpose, as a company, is to enrich people’s lives with the help of technology,” says Best Buy CEO Corie Barry. “Fundamentally, under that, we believe we can help seniors age in their homes longer with the help of technology…10,000 people are turning 65 every day, it’s a population that’s going to grow by 50% in 20 years, and there are going to be a lot of people who would like to take better care of themselves and their loved ones.”
If you enjoyed learning about the remarkable rise of Best Buy CEO Corie Barry, be sure to check out our biography of Apple CEO Tim Cook!