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Best Buy CEO Corie Barry: The COVID-19 pandemic has made me a better leader

Brian Sozzi
·Editor-at-Large
·4 min read

Best Buy (BBY) CEO Corie Barry has been in constant motion this year managing a 1,200 store-plus retailer that America and Canada has leaned on to buy essential work-from-home gear and services during the COVID-19 pandemic (and more recently, home renovation stuff like appliances).

So it’s understandable that Barry, 44, hasn’t had profound amounts of time to ponder how the pandemic has changed her as a leader. But, it’s clear Barry — who took over as CEO in June 2019 from the well-respected Hubert Joly — has reflected on it a bit when chatting with us at this year’s Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit. No doubt her insight is helpful to fellow leaders right now managing through tattered financial statements and concerned employees.

“I think for me, it has underscored a couple of things. The first is my own philosophy about the role of a CEO is to create the conditions for other amazing leaders to be successful and to move as quickly as we move to make the decisions. It's not just about me sitting alone in my office, checking out decisions. It's about using and leveraging and unleashing the leaders around me. And that philosophy has actually only held more true during the time of the pandemic,” Barry explained.

Continued Barry, “I think that the second big piece here for me is that it's a very personal time for people. This isn't just about, go do your work, and it's separate from your personal life. I think everyone's work and personal lives are very combined. We have what we call inclusive leadership behaviors at Best Buy. And they are empathy, courage, vulnerability, and grace. And those leadership behaviors are not something you always hear a corporation talk about. But I think in a time where our personal lives and professional lives are so intertwined, not being afraid to exhibit those behaviors is crucial for our teams right now.”

Barry’s leadership philosophy is etched all over her approach to managing Best Buy since the pandemic kicked into high gear in March. Many on the Street credit her decisive leadership as being ahead of others in retail and earning a good amount of goodwill among consumers and workers.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 30: A man wearing a  mask walks past a "shop safely as the city continues , face covers are required in our store" sign outside a Best Buy in Union Square Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on September 30, 2020 in New York City. The fourth phase allows outdoor arts and entertainment, sporting events without fans and media production. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 30: A man wearing a mask walks past a "shop safely as the city continues , face covers are required in our store" sign outside a Best Buy in Union Square Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on September 30, 2020 in New York City. The fourth phase allows outdoor arts and entertainment, sporting events without fans and media production. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

It was a painful decision for Barry — who is beloved by store workers because she climbed to the top of Best Buy over a 20-year career at the retailer—but she was forced to furlough 51,000 workers in April. The decision preserved Best Buy’s financials (which showed off her experience as former Best Buy CFO) at a time of incredible uncertainty as stores were closed and services limited. Barry cut her salary in half, and executives that report to her took a 20% pay reduction. The board — led by former Domino’s Pizza CEO Patrick Doyle since June — agreed to receive half their cash retainer fees.

In late April, Barry unveiled a clever appointment-only shopping experience for consumers as stores slowly began to reopen. Come June 15, Best Buy reopened 800 of its stores. On Aug. 2, Best Buy raised its starting minimum wage for U.S. workers to $15 an hour.

Barry said two-thirds of Best Buy’s workers have been brought back from the April furlough.

The quick-thinking by Barry and her team have paid dividends.

Best Buy’s fiscal second quarter enterprise same-store sales rose 5.8%. Domestic online same-store sales surged 242% from a year ago. Earnings per share spiked 58% year-over-year. The company’s stock has risen 48% since March, according to Yahoo Finance Premium data — that’s better than Target (46% gain) and Walmart (25% gain).

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-anchor of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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