Best Buy’s new CEO wants to learn from the front line

NEW YORK, Tue Sep 4, 2012 – Best Buy’s new chief executive, Hubert Joly, will spend much of his first week on the job wearing a blue shirt and working the floor as a salesman at the chain’s stores in Minnesota as the restructuring expert tackles criticism that he lacks retail experience.

Just like any other new employee, Joly will be trained to serve customers, stock items, accept returns and go on calls with Geek Squad agents.

“The last time I worked in a store was in 1975,” Joly, 53, said in an interview with Reuters on Monday, one day before officially taking charge as CEO of the world’s largest consumer electronics chain.

“I want to not learn our businesses from the headquarters,” Joly said, “I want to learn from the front line.”

That’s not to say that he does not already have some plans for Best Buy, which is facing cut-throat competition from the likes of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and, as well as a takeover attempt by founder Richard Schulze.

He said he plans to cut non-salary expenses and woo holiday shoppers with a three-pronged strategy of offering competitive prices, stocking the right amount of hot products and improving customer service. Joly declined to be more specific.

Best Buy could use some improvement in those areas. Last year, it struggled to keep up with online demand and failed to fulfill less than 1 percent of its customers’ online orders during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and the following week.

In 2010, it made a bad bet on pricier 3-D televisions that customers did not embrace.

“There are a few areas where we will strive to do better,” Joly said. “We will not take anything for granted.”

Going forward, Joly also plans to take advantage of Best Buy’s clout with key suppliers by reaching out to them to develop “deeper strategic partnerships.”

“There are different ways to skin a cat in terms of a partnership. It can be exclusive (products), it can be unique shopping experiences, it can be deals, you know, a whole variety of things,” Joly said, without giving more details.