What was the moment when you realized that the way we’ve been doing things just isn’t working?
My journey on this dates back to the early ’90s. When I started at Best Buy, the basic advice from investors and management was cut, cut, cut. Close stores. Fire everybody. We did the opposite. We listened to the frontliners. We treated head-count reduction as a last resort. So the philosophy was there from the beginning.
If you think about business by first thinking about how you want to be remembered as a human being, most of us gravitate to the golden rule — doing something good to our people. If you can connect that desire in your heart with the way you run the business, the employees will love the company. The customers will love the company.
What were some of the obstacles you encountered as you worked to turn around Best Buy?
Our main challenges were: How do you create these new strategies? How to get 100,000 people to embrace them? People can have conversations about changing the system. I think that if we change ourselves, and change the way we run companies, there is an enormous amount we can do, and we don’t need to blame anyone. We don’t need to become a B Corp to do good things in the world.
Are there specific actions you think companies should take?
I would start with providing an attractive environment and set of opportunities for their employees. Raising the minimum wage is a very important trend, but it goes beyond pay. It is about benefits, taking care of your employees, including their mental health or their ability to vote. It is about a path to advancement, skills acquisition. It is about offering a growth environment, one where you feel you belong, one where you feel your manager is investing in you, one where you can connect what drives you with your work.
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The others have to do with developing a concrete plan to become carbon neutral and making sure you are a good member of the community in which you operate.
If companies are going to pay workers more and pay more taxes, doesn’t that at the end of the day mean there will be fewer profits for executives and investors? That’s a hard sell to the people who currently have the most power to change these things.
My experience has been that you can actually create more shareholder value by embracing this stakeholder approach. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy, and it takes time. If in 2012 I told the investors, “I’m going to immediately go to $15 an hour,” it would not have been reasonable. So we did it over time. It’s like, if I want to lose 20 pounds overnight, you can’t. It takes time.