To launch the new decade, the St. Thomas Alumni Association First Friday Speaker Series welcomed Corie Barry, CEO of Best Buy, to a sold-out James B. Woulfe Alumni Hall on Feb. 7.
Barry shared remarks with St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan regarding the importance of creativity, loyalty, diversity and discomfort within the professional community, and how she is working to enrich the lives of others through technology. Here are five observations from the talk.
1. Data is the new currency.“Having a data analytics background or capability now as data is the currency of business is incredibly important and it is where the world is going,” Barry said.
With the rapid pace of the world, jobs are less likely to be linear in nature. Barry said a liberal arts education can uniquely provide a better feeling, or more comfort, with being uncomfortable.
“From a world where it used to be, ‘I handed in my test, got it graded, got it back, and know whether it was good or bad,’ to a world where I am debating very interesting, sticky topics (and) thinking about the ethical implications … That is where the future is going,” she added.
2. There are many different ways your career can grow. A liberal arts education provides an excellent foundation.
Growing up with two self-employed artist parents in rural Cambridge, Minnesota, Barry learned from a young age the ability to change the world through her hard work.
“One of the first things I learned was how to entertain myself,” she said. Her creativity stems from a deep appreciation of the nature that surrounded her in the fields of Cambridge.
During her college years at the College of Saint Benedict, she was taught critical lessons regarding mindful leadership and deliberate action, giving her the tools to make the world a better place.
“A liberal arts education teaches your brain to shift gears; you are as likely to be in a philosophy class and then walk down the hall and take your tax accounting class,” Barry said. “That ability for your brain to constantly be shifting gears and constantly be challenging itself (develops) skills you are going to use.”
As she cultivated her career path, her strong advocacy for a liberal arts education did not cease. Today Barry proudly serves on the College of Saint Benedict’s Board of Trustees.
3. Loyalty is the key to successfully representing a company.
Using her passion and loyalty to St. Benedict’s as a steppingstone, Barry has stuck with Best Buy through its rise, fall and rise.
“It was really about us getting back to doing the things we do well even better, and admitting and saying out loud the things that weren’t working well and fixing them,” she said.
Barry shared the following four key tenets Best Buy established to overcome its internal challenges:
- Admitting the company needs to be priced competitively all the time.
- Admitting how important Best Buy is to its vendors.
- Admitting the company’s online experience had not kept up, thus needing to invest more company resources into digital experiences.
- Having the courage to pull billions of dollars in cost out of the company’s model.
“The first couple years were brutal,” she said. By being loyal to this plan, practicing clear communication with her co-workers and vendors alike, and with her creative foundation, Barry helped turn Best Buy around to improve the company’s revenue and innovation.
Using the analogy of riding a bike, Barry said the company’s “Building the New Blue: Chapter Two” strategy required the courage of simply “getting on and pedaling.” Staying with the company through the thick and thin stemmed from her personal purpose of “trying to leave the world a little bit better than when I found it,” she said. Best Buy has since grown to more than 1,000 stores in United States, Canada and Mexico; employing around 125,000 people; and ranking No. 7 on the Forbes Best Employers for Women in 2019 list.
4. By focusing on helping customers solve problems, Best Buy expects to be around a long time.
In response to Sullivan’s question, “Where do you see Best Buy in 10 years?” Barry’s answer is one she knows makes investors, customers and the public “wildly uncomfortable,” she said.
“The question of what the product will be or where the world is going, I often cannot answer,” she stated.
What she does know for fact is technology and innovation is quickly changing in our consumer-driven world. With this rise comes the increase in demand for products that will help customers solve their problems in and out of their homes.
Barry predicted, “In 10 years my inclination is we will only be more spoiled as customers, and we as a retailer have to find ways to meet you where you are.”
5. Put yourself in others’ shoes to engage with employees and attract new leaders.
For Best Buy to continue to thrive in the marketplace, Barry believes the company needs to flow as one. Her engagement with her employees is displayed through visiting the company’s stores, interacting on LinkedIn and Microsoft Teams (they often message her directly), and by being an ear to the concerns of consumers.
“I try as best I can to set aside time to use every communication vehicle that we have to try to be out there,” she said. “To be seen as a human is really important to me. It’s about how a suite of leaders can all have some presence like this and can be seen as accessible.”
Barry added her personal perspective on mentorship has changed from one of searching out people with more accomplishments to one of connecting with people with different life experiences.