Thinkers50 in collaboration with Deloitte presents:
ABOUT THIS EPISODE
Hubert Joly has been described as ‘a visionary’, and ‘one of the most gifted leaders of our time.’ As CEO of the electrical retailer Best Buy, Joly led a turnaround that Amazon’s Jeff Bezos described as ‘…remarkable – a case study that should be taught in business schools around the world.’
Now a lecturer at Harvard Business School and a member of the board of directors of Johnson & Johnson and Ralph Lauren, Joly’s book The Heart of Business is a playbook for leaders who are ready to abandon old paradigms and lead with a noble purpose. In it, Joly agitates for business to commit to diversity and inclusion to ‘unleash human magic’.
In 2021, it earned him the Thinkers50 Distinguished Achievement Award for Leadership.
Former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Best Buy
About Hubert Joly
Hubert Joly is a senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School and the former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Best Buy.
He is also a member of the board of directors of Johnson & Johnson and Ralph Lauren Corporation, a member of the International Advisory Board of HEC Paris, and a Trustee of the New York Public Library and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Joly has been ranked as one of the top 100 CEOs in the world by the Harvard Business Review, one of the top 30 CEOs in the world by Barron’s and one of the top 10 CEOs in the U.S. by Glassdoor. He has also been recognized as one the top 50 management thinkers in the world by Thinkers50 and received the organization’s 2021 Leadership Award.
He is the author of the best-selling and highly acclaimed book “The Heart of Business – Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism.”
Chief Growth Officer, Deloitte
Inspired by the book Provoke: How Leaders Shape the Future by Overcoming Fatal Human Flaws; Wiley, 2021.
Subscribe for More Episodes
Hello, I’m Des Dearlove. I’m the co-founder of Thinkers50, and I’d like to welcome you to our podcast series, Provocateurs, in which we explore the experiences, insights, and perspectives of inspiring leaders. Our aim is to provoke you to think and act differently through conversations with insightful leaders who offer new perspectives on traditional business thinking. This is a collaboration between Thinkers50 and Deloitte. So my co-host today is Stacy Janiak, Managing Partner in Chief Growth Officer of Deloitte, U.S. Stacy’s also a member of Deloitte’s U.S. Executive Committee and Global Board of Directors. Stacy, welcome.
Thank you, Des. I am thrilled to be here today to welcome our esteemed guest, Hubert Joly. Hubert is a lecturer at the Harvard Business School and the former Chairman and CEO of the consumer electronics retailer, Best Buy. He’s also a member of the Board of Directors of Johnson & Johnson and the Ralph Lauren Corporation, and a member of the International Advisory Board of HEC Paris, as well as the Trustee at the New York Public Library and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Hubert has been recognized as one of the top 50 Management Thinkers in the world by none other than Thinkers50 and received our 2021 Leadership Award. He’s also been ranked as one of the top 100 CEOs in the world by the Harvard Business Review, one of the top 30 CEOs in the world by Barons, and one of the top 10 CEOs in the U.S. by Glassdoor. Hubert’s best selling and highly acclaimed book is called The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism, which has now been published in French and Chinese, and is set to come out in the total of, well, 15 languages, so far, and growing. Hubert, welcome.
Well, thank you so much, and I so look forward to our conversation. And Stacy, thank you for your friendship and your support when I was at Best Buy. You and I go, a little bit back, so good to see you.
Great to see you. And can’t wait to get into that story.
And congratulations on the book. And, if I may say so, making the transition from CEO to Business Thinker and Provocateur. It’s not always an easy journey. You go from having all that power and all that stress and all that pressure, and then you have to reinvent yourself. How are you finding it at Harvard, and would you say there’s some thread that runs through your career that’s allowed you to make that transition?
And, Des, it’s good to see you, and thank you for what you do and what Thinkers50 do to highlight and elevate ideas and help all of us be better leaders, so very grateful for your leadership in the space. I am extremely happy in my next chapter at Harvard Business School, as a professor, and outside of Harvard, being a coach and mentor to CEOs and other executives. It’s fully in line with my purpose today, which is to it’s always been, try to make a positive difference on people around me, and use the platform I have to make a positive difference in the world. When I was CEO of Best Buy, the platform was Best Buy. Now, I think it may be what I’ve learned from a leadership standpoint, and so it gives me great joy to try to help the next generation of leaders be the best, most beautiful, biggest version of themselves and try to make a positive difference in the world, which needs it. The world is not working well today, so much to do.
Well, I want to get into the Best Buy story, Hubert. So I did have a front row seat to it. It was amazing. But for our listeners who might not know it, I’d love for you to give a brief description of how you came to be CEO. The company was in a really challenging period at that time, and you didn’t have any real retail experience. So why did you take the job on?
So it’s May of 2012, Stacy, and I get the call from my good friend, Jim Citrin, who’s Senior Partner at Spencer Stuart, of course. Great author, as well. And he is a great friend and he calls me about the Best Buy job. And I tell him, “Jim, you’re crazy, right? I know nothing about retail.” And while Best Buy had been an amazing leader in the space that I’d always admired, it’s a mess. So you’re my friend. Why are you calling me? He said, “Well, they’re not looking for a retailer. They have plenty. They’re looking for somebody who can take a fresh perspective and effectuate a turnaround, and you’re a turnaround guy. That’s what you do. So at least do me a favor; study, take a look at it. And whatever Jim tells me to do, I end up doing.
So I took a look and it’s an interesting lesson because while there was zero buy recommendation on the stock at the time, and the media was written off Best Buy. Everybody thought Best Buy was going to die. And as I took the time to study, so I did mystery shopping, I read everything I could. I spoke with alumni, I watched the investor calls of the previous management team. And I saw two things that convinced me that we could do a turnaround. One, the world actually needed Best Buy and certainly customers, for some, at least some of our product purchases, it’s helpful to be able to touch, feel, and see the products and ask questions. So this is complex stuff. And then the vendors, importantly, needed Best Buy. So companies like Samsung and Microsoft, Sony, Apple, they all spend billions of dollars on R&D and they need to showcase the fruit of these investments, and a box on a shelf at Walmart or as a vignette on Amazon just doesn’t do it. And so the world needed Best Buy.
The second thing is that the company, of course, had problems, but the good news was that all of the problems were self-inflicted. Prices were too high, the online shopping experience was mediocre, the speed of shipping was too slow, the experience in the stores had deteriorated, the cost structure was bloated. What is the good news with self-inflicted problems? We can fix them. I didn’t need to call Jeff Bezos and say, “Stop bothering us.” We could fix it. So I felt that there were enough assets and capabilities and opportunities to effect a turnaround. And the idea, I was based in Minneapolis at the time, to help to work with others, to help save this iconic Minnesotan company and reinvent it, that was appealing. That would appeal to my love for challenges, and also my desire to do something good in the world.
So, one of the striking things about the book is that it’s not just your normal sort of turnaround story about Best Buy. It’s a very much a personal leadership journey, and, dare I say, a spiritual journey, too. In the book, you talk about the importance of leading with purpose, with a noble purpose, and humanity. Can you tell us a little bit about that philosophy?
Yes, and maybe I’ll start with describing my journey as a leader, because I think we all know this, 100% of leaders were born, but none of us were born as a leader. And so there were some important milestones along the way, for me, and one of them was 30 years ago. A couple of friends of mine who are monks, asked me to work with them to write an article about the philosophy and theology of work. Why do we work? Is work a punishment because some dude sits in paradise? Is work something we do so that we can do something else that’s more fun, like maybe watching the Vikings beat the Green Bay Packers, if you’re from Minneapolis? Or is work part of our fulfillment as human beings and part of a way for us to do something good in the world. And of course, that’s a choice we have. The sad thing is of course in companies, 80% of employees are disengaged. So imagine the possibilities if everybody was engaged. So that was a first milestone.
The second milestone was about 20 years ago. In many ways, to quote David Brooks, I was at the top of my first mountain. I’d been a partner at McKinsey and Company, I was on the executive team of a large media and entertainment company called Vivendi Universal. So I’d been successful. Except the top of my first mountain was desolate. There was no joy. There was no meaning. There was no taste. And so I call this my midlife crisis. Probably has not happened to you guys, but happens to some of us. And probably, when I step back, that was coming from the fact that I’d been too driven by the attraction and the seduction of power, fame, glory, or money. And now I know that if it’s power, fame, glory, or money, I need to slow down. Time out.
And so that led me to step back and, with the help of the spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyal, the founder of the Jesuits, to revisit my life, the highs and the lows, and try to discern my calling in life and key questions my wife and I ask our coaching clients is how do you want to be remembered? And all of this led me to your question as to the realization that, and that was, of course, increasingly clear, in particular during the pandemic, the world as we know it is not working. Well, of course, we have a health crisis, we have an economic crisis. Importantly, we have societal issues, social inequality, racial inequality, environmental issues, geopolitical tensions, the world is not working.
And what’s the definition of madness? Do the same thing and hope for a different outcome. And for me, there’s this need for an urgent refoundation of business, indeed, around purpose and humanity. Purpose and people. The excessive focus on profit that was triggered by this Milton Friedman era is very poisonous. Similarly, if I think about Bob McNamara, who, for me, is the inventor of scientific job-down management. These things don’t work. This is not how you unleash, as I talk about in the book, the human magic of your employees in support of a purpose. So it’s the idea that your business is about more than for-profits by doing well, by doing and pursuing a noble purpose, putting people at the center as the source, as the engine, embracing all stakeholders in the declaration of interdependence, and treating profit as an outcome, not the goal.
Now, of course, most people today believe that something like this is the right direction, but we also all know that this is hard to do. And that’s why I wrote this book, and that’s why I’m now focused on helping the next generation of leaders so that we can all make progress in that direction.
As you were speaking, I was thinking maybe business, itself, needs a midlife crisis. Do you think there’s an opportunity here? It feels that the whole pandemic, that maybe there is this opportunity to be reset, which is what a good midlife crisis does.
It’s an opportunity. It’s also an imperative because there’s so many tensions and issues and what’s encouraging, and Stacy, you guys see the same people I see. I’m finding that amongst the CEOs of major companies, both in the U.S. and Europe, I think also in Asia, there is a realization that the old ways are not working in that as human beings, as leaders, and as organizations, we want to do better, and there’s a lot of great examples of amazing leadership. The model of the leader in this 21st century has changed dramatically. The old model of the leader as the superhero who knows everything and tells other people what to do and is driven, again, by power, fame, glory, or money, nobody wants to follow a leader like this.
I think what we are seeing is leaders who are much more purposeful. They want to do something good in the world, and then there’s some words that come with this that we never used to talk about. When we’re talking about leaders; authenticity, vulnerability, humanity, humility, empathy. These are great attributes and the humility part, in particular. So I remember when I was growing up as a kid there were some, some friends of my parents were visiting and they asked me a question, I said, “I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that question.” And the person tells me, “Young man, you should never say, ‘I don’t know.’ You’re going to lose your credibility.” And that was stupid.
And of course, in this time of great uncertainty, I don’t know whether you had the manual on how to deal with COVID, or back to the office, or the war in Ukraine. Of course, nobody had these things. So it’s become super easy for leaders to say, “My name is Hubert, and I don’t know, and we’re going to have to figure this out together.” And you’re not losing credibility and authority by saying this. In fact, not saying, “I don’t know,” would lead to a loss of credibility and authority because people know that we don’t know. And so it’s a very different approach and there’s so many great examples of this happening at all levels in companies. It’s very inspiring.
Yes. Hubert, I think all the words you just used became really, really relevant during this COVID period. I think you were even ahead of the game, as I think about the book and what you described at Best Buy, around the people-centric turnaround, around the human magic. And what I thought was really provocative was that, at some point, you said you had lost control of the operations. And that would be… That’s very provocative for any leader to get to that point and recognize that. Could you talk a bit about what that meant for the company?
It was such a great feeling. I think it may have been in 2018 and I will describe a story that I became aware of. I think it says it was 2018 and in one of our stores in Florida, it was a young boy and his mother who came back to the store after the holidays. The young boy had had for Christmas, as a gift he had had a dinosaur toy, and the bad news is that the dinosaur toy, the dinosaur, got sick. The way we know the dinosaur got sick is the head got dismantled from the rest of the body. So very sick. And the little boy wanted a cure for the dinosaur. So of course, they go back to the place where, presumably, Santa had gotten the dinosaur. And of course at most stores, you would’ve been sent to the toy aisle and, with some luck, you would’ve been able to buy a replacement. But that’s not at all what the little boy wanted.
And in that Best Buy store in Florida on that day, there’s two women associates. It’s interesting they were women. Completely understood what was happening and they took the dinosaur toy, they went behind a counter and started performing a surgical procedure on the dinosaur. And like in Good Doctor, the TV series, they walked the boy through the steps in the procedure. And of course, substituted a new dinosaur, but gave back to the little boy a cured dinosaur. So you can imagine the joy of the little boy and his mother.
Now here’s the question. Do both of you think that, at the time, there was a standard operating procedure at Best Buy on how to deal with sick dinosaurs? Or maybe even better, a letter from me, this very smart CEO, on how to deal with this. Or perhaps, instead of incentives on how many dinosaurs you can… of course not. None of that. These two associates found it in their heart to create that magic for this little boy.
And this was at a time where our comparable store sales, which is a key measure in retail, as you well know, started to accelerate to a point where it was almost bizarre. It was not rational. And so when I heard that story and frankly, it was representative of what was happening throughout the company. I said, “Oh my God, what have we done?” And what we had in this, we had the least human magic at scale. A hundred thousand people. And that’s when I felt that I said, “My God, I’ve lost control of the operation.” And the fun thing is that it had been deliberate because after the turnaround phase, which was quite different in terms of modest apparent, I joined the turnaround, of course, the top management team, the CEO in particular, we had, had to make a lot of decisions; like deciding to match Amazon prices, invest in eCommerce, partner with the world’s foremost tech companies.
But in that second phase, which we call building the new bloom, which was about growth and pursuing a noble purpose, we said, “We are not a consumer electronics retailer. We are a company that’s there to enrich lives through technology.” We had also worked on creating more autonomy at all levels in the company, too, because if the decisions we made were limited to what the CEO, maybe the executive teams were making, we would become a bottleneck. And so we had created an environment, and that’s the key role of leadership in many ways. It’s not so much to come up with the right answers on the strategy, but it’s more to be like a gardener to create a fertilized soil where all of these human seeds can blossom. And so I had lost control of the operation, Stacy.
How did you get your leadership team? Because in a retailer, in particular, standard operating procedure is very important, that’s what people grow up with. How did you get your leadership team to go on that journey with you?
Yes, this was quite an adventure. There were milestones. And frankly, you can see on my face a lot of scars. That’s all of the fumbling and mistakes that we made on the journey. Maybe I can talk about a few milestones. One, so at the beginning of that second phase, we had renew bloom, and then building the new bloom, we had worked on strategy in that second phase of segmentation, targeting, positioning, all that kind of good stuff, but this, it went beyond. We wanted to know the why. And during one of our offsites, so every quarter we would get the executive team together to work on our plans, our progress, what have you, most companies do this. And during one of these offsites, I had asked every one of the executive team members to come to the offsite with a picture of themselves when they were little, maybe two or three years old.
So as you can imagine, there were some really cute pictures. And then over dinner, we spend the evening sharing with each other our life story. Not our resume, but our life story, the highs, the lows, the struggles, the joys, and our purpose in life. And we discovered two things on this occasion. And by the way, I feel that we don’t spend enough time in the corporate world getting to know our team members at that level. So I would, that’s one thing I would encourage people to consider doing, but we discovered two things. One, every one of the executive team members was a human being. Beautiful, quirky, messy, human being. Not just a CFO or CHRO, or CMO. And then second, with a couple of exceptions, every member of us shared the same kind of purpose in life, which is to do something good to other people. The golden rule, which I think is that is in the heart of every human being. Even Darth Vader, his son believes the force is still in him. So even them.
So you go and then we step back and we say, ‘look, we’re the leadership team of Best Buy. Why don’t we use this platform to create an organization that employees will love, customers will love, vendors, community, and shareholders will love. So all of a sudden, work it’s back to what we’ve talked about, work is not just work. It’s a calling. It’s part of our fulfillment as human beings. It changes everything, I think, in the dialogue.
And then another milestone, in terms of this unleashing of human magic and letting go is that we were working with an outside advisor on our effectiveness as a management team, because we were not happy with our progress. Again, too slow. And so we worked on clarity of decision making. And they got me to say, ‘look, there’s only three or four decisions I am responsible for. One is the overall strategy for the company, who is on the team, the culture, and big investments, M&A, and so forth. That’s it. The rest I’m not responsible. I mean, I’m accountable in the end, but somebody else need to be the lead.’ So we worked on how far down we could push decision making, and then we worked on how the decisions would be made.
One of the things that was slowing us down was anytime there was a decision, if a senior executive would raise their eyebrow, like this, it would slow things down. People would freak out. Oh my God, Jack or Mary, they don’t seem to be on board. We cannot move forward. And so we said, no, no, no, no eyebrow raising. That’s not a productive activity, so that’s prohibited. Maybe in your bathroom, but that’s it. Now what you can do, if asked or if you want to, you can provide input. So if Jason is in charge, let’s say, of the mobile phone strategy and it’s one of the things we sell at Best Buy, if you have ideas, you can provide input to Jason, but Jason is going to be the decision maker. He’s going to assemble a team. We’ve all moved to agile teams and so forth. And so that, of course it’s empowerment within a frame, so the frame is that this is Best Buy. We have a purpose, we have some, there’s some things that you shouldn’t do, otherwise, you go to jail. But then you have to resist the temptation to overprescribe.
And the last point I would highlight is this. We had, and it’s going to circle with the dinosaur, we had, at some point, assembled a team, some of our best people, to come up with the right things to say or ask when selling a TV, or computer, or anything like this, and it was really well done, really smart. Except the blue shirts hated it because it took their humanity out. It was too mechanical. And given our purpose to enrich lives with technology, and really what we’re trying to do was to be an inspiring friend to our customers. That was really the essence of the strategy. There’s no prescription. You cannot prescribe empathy, and so it’s this tie to the purpose and the strategy and the culture that led us to say, ‘no, we have to let go. Empowerment within a frame. There’s going to be no standard procedure on how to deal with dinosaurs.’
It’s all about motivation is intrinsic. It’s from the inside out. So how do we create that environment where people feel that they can connect what drives them with their work and they have the autonomy and it’s all about these human connections. So that was the work.
So I want to take you back to the dinosaur and I want to know two parts to this question. I want to know, how did you first hear the story of the dinosaur that needed surgery? So, that’s the first part. Where did you get that from? And the second thing is, what do you do, as a leader, what do you do with a story like that? Because that, potentially, that’s gold dust when you hear something like that. Then how do you broadcast that? How do you put that into the corporate bloodstream?
Yes. Stories are such a gift because this is how we learn as human beings. And I had this great partnership with our Head of Corporate Communication, Matt Furman. A mistake that companies make, and so everybody’s working on their corporate purpose, and then they ask their communications team to broadcast it, posters, videos. That’s not how people are going to connect with what we’re trying to accomplish here. Stories are much more powerful.
So one of the things that Matt put in place is a mechanism by which he could gather stories from outside of the company. So there was an explicit desire. And yet, told everyone to give us stories. And anytime he got it, he would, then we would make the most out of them in a genuine fashion. Because again, this purpose thing is important.
So let’s slow down and double click on it. A challenge that companies have is, and we had, is how do you ensure that everybody at the company writes themself into the story of that purpose? And I think what I’ve learned is it’s inside out. Because imagine for a second, that the three of us walk into a Best Buy store and we tell the store general manager and his or her team, ‘we have some great news. We have a new corporate purpose to enrich lives through technology. Aren’t you excited?’ And I can guarantee you that what they’re going to say is, ‘Hubert and Des and Stacy, you are all amazing. We love you, but we have no idea what you just said. This is corporate speech. Could you try again?’.
And I’ll give credit to our team. So as we were trying to think through, how do we get everybody to write themselves into the story, we assembled a team of 40 or 50 of our best leaders and working with some outside help, they distilled this idea of corporate purpose, to the idea of wanting to be an inspiring friends to our customers, which is something that everybody can relate to. And so one day, we closed all of our stores on a Saturday morning, early, because we love the revenue from Saturdays, and no PowerPoints, no video from the CEO, nothing like this. We got into small groups and I was in one of the stores and I was paired with a young woman. She had been in an abusive relationship with an ex-boyfriend. She had been homeless and for her, Best Buy was her home and her family. And of course, immediately, I see her not as an employee, but as a human being. As a beautiful, a bit messy, but big human being.
And then the second thing we were asked to do was to share with each other the story of an inspiring friend in our life. And for me, it’s my older brother, Philip. He’s an amazing guy. He’s the guy you should be interviewing. He’s way better than I am. And then what we said is, ‘look, what we are trying to do, which we already do, by the way, when we are at our best, is to treat each other and the customers as human beings, not a walking wallet, and treat each other and the customers as if we were an inspiring friend to them. Now, everybody can relate to this, can connect to that because we, hopefully everybody listening has an inspiring friend, if not call us after class so that we can help you.
Now, of course, we’ve all gone to training. It’s not sufficient to go to training, so then you need to create the right environment for these seeds to blossom. And stories, to go back to your question, Des, help make it come to life. And then standard operating procedures, Stacy, at some point, Kamy [Scarlett], our head of HR, you know Kamy, said, “You know what SOP stands for? It’s not standard operating procedure, it’s Service Over Policy.” And early on, when I started at Best Buy, we created a new policy. So I’m going to take about 15 minutes to read it to you, and the policy was like this. It was, we shouldn’t do anything that’s either stupid, crazy or goofy. End of policy.
I like that. I’m sure the blue shirts like that.
Yes, that’s empowerment. If you see something, do something. So that was avoiding to make mistakes at the beginning. And then in the second phase, which was more about being these inspiring friends, stories like the dinosaur. Stories, also on how we dealt with hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico really helped the culture come to life. We had three stores on the islands and, of course, they had been hit. The island had been destroyed, as we all remember, and we can contact our employees. Somehow the U.S. Government decided that the Navy couldn’t help. It’s an island. Maybe the Navy could help.
And so Amber Cales, who was the regional manager, we told her, Amber, do whatever it takes. And so she chartered some private flights, and at some point she asked, “How do I do this? Do I charge that on my credit card?” You know, there was no SOP for that. And we shipped goods, we shipped cash, we brought people back from the island. Of course, like many other employees, we’d continue to pay the employees for as long… The only ask was that they should contribute to the rebuilding of the island. We paid them until we reopened the stores. If people wanted to move to the mainland, we could do this. So it was a case of whatever it takes, because this was our people. We were going to take care of them. And we never broadcast that on national television and so forth, but internally, this is who we are.
Let’s take another provocative topic. One that’s very topical, at the moment, and talk about employee activism. This is clearly a growing area, and I know you’re not in the CEO hot seat anymore, but you have been, and you have experienced some of these things. Is it still okay for companies to sit on the fence and remain apolitical, or should they get involved in the politics of the day and the social campaigns of the day?
Yes, this is the… I’m quite close to CEOs. In fact, earlier this week at HBS, we did a, we have an ongoing program with a bunch of CEOs from the U.S. and Europe where they bring their toughest leadership challenges, and this issue of engaging in societal matters is one of their top two or three issues. We’ve all seen the case of Bob Chapek saying, “No, I’m not going to get involved into politics,” or somebody else could say, ‘I’m going to get involved, but not in political matters.’ And you say cannot be. And, and so if you look at the last five years, there’s been this growing need of an expectation of companies getting engaged in societal matters. In part, because there’s more of them, in part, also, because governments around the world have been failing or have been reluctant to weigh in, or have failed to weigh in, and solve some of these issues appropriately.
The challenge, of course, is that CEO’s, we’re not elected officials. So when I was CEO, and the CEOs I know, they know they’re not the president of the country. They cannot get involved in every issue, so you have to be selective. And based on your purpose, and your values, and your stakeholders, and then figure out what’s the best way to get engaged and be effective. Because it’s one thing to speak up, but you also want to be effective. And so I see companies developing criteria, resources, processes, boards need to get involved to review the framework, what are the topics in which we’re going to weigh-in, and develop a set of internal and external capabilities.
Because so many of the topics are new, many CEOs probably struggled on how to spell Ukraine up until a few months ago. Or you ask, I’ve written a case with my good friend, Bill George, on the Georgia voting rights bill. Most CEOs aren’t experts at this issue. And at the same time, let’s think about it. We have employees, and if somebody is attacking, we feel, the rights of our employees, that’s an issue. Now, you can debate whether it’s actually effective to get publicly involved in the debate or whether it’s better to do it behind the scenes or whether your best approach is to, actually, act.
So Carol [B. Tomé], the CEO of UPS, she didn’t speak up publicly much about the issue, but she acted. So giving PTO, give it as I want to speak to an international audience. So in the U.S., election day is on a Tuesday, and if you are a part-time worker, if you go vote, you’re going to miss the revenue opportunity. And if going from paycheck to paycheck, that’s an issue. And if you have to wait in line for five hours, that’s a big deal. So many companies have given a day off on election days. Maybe they’ve put voting machines closer to their premises, they educate, they make it easier for people to register, and so forth.
Why does it matter? It matters for two reasons. One, you want to have the back of your employees. And B, there is a view that democracy is a key and critical foundation for business. And so if you want democracy to work, you want people to actually vote. So, decide to not get engaged in political matters on your own peril, but then be selective, be thoughtful. I think that you need to pick issues that are relevant to you where you’re going to be authentic, where you’re going to be legitimate, where you’ve done the work. You’re going to need to be congruent because if you say something, externally, and your practices, internally, are terrible, that’s not a good thing. You need to look at how to be effective in your actions.
And then you need to understand the business impact, but not necessarily let the business impact drive the outcome, because your values may be more important than the business impact in the short-term.
So something like Black Lives Matter. Is that something that, it seems to me that everybody has to have a position, has to have a voice and something like that. That’s not one that you can sidestep.
That’s a critical one, and there I’ll talk for me from a U.S. perspective, because the issue of ethnic racial inequity, they vary by country. There’s issues in every country. But Black Lives Matters is a U.S. specific, with slavery. I think every company, now, realizes that having a team, an organization, that reflects the customers we serve and the communities in which we operate is not only a moral imperative, it’s also a business imperative. And I think in the U.S., there’s been this long history of inequality, and [lack of] fairness, and so forth, and companies, for many years, were talking about it, but not really getting traction. And I think, now, there’s a widespread realization that this is a business imperative.
And I remember sitting down with Melody Hobson, who, of course, was a co-CEO, now CEO of Ariel Investment, and then Chair of the Starbucks Board, who told me, “Hubert, do you know that if you go to the bathroom in a hotel and if your skin is very dark, you’re not going to be able to get soap from the infrared activated soap dispenser?” Everybody in the black community knows this, but you don’t know this, because you’re not black. And so if you’re running a hotel company, you’d better have some black people on the team. Same with smartphones. We all know that smartphones, for years, struggled with taking pictures of black individuals because it was infrared activated. So this is a business imperative. And the good thing is that once you realize it’s a business imperative in the business world, we know how to deal with business problems and we simply need to apply the same kind of rigor.
So if you’re not able to recruit black employees, well, are you fishing in where the fish is? Or if people are not… if they apply, but they’re not selected, do you have the right interviewing teams? We’ve observed that diverse slates and diverse teams is what leads to good outcome. Diversity is one thing, inclusion is another thing. Are you retaining and promoting people? If you build a place where everybody feels that they belong, and that’s a critical thing, also, by the way, for me.
Back to the human magic thing. If the employees don’t feel that they can be themselves and belong, you’re going to miss. And I remember, and I’ll finish with this. I remember one day visiting a store, speaking with a young associate, he told me his life changed the day a manager recognized him and took an interest in him. Then he became, he had the opportunity to grow and to become the biggest, best, most beautiful version of himself.
So the leadership implication there is, so my compatriot Rene Descartes said, “I think, therefore, I am.” No, he’s wrong. I’m sorry. Long time ago. It’s ‘I am seen, therefore, I am’. As leaders, we need to make sure we create an environment where everyone feels that they’re seen and that they matter and that they’re key member of the team.
Tell me about reverse mentoring scheme that you have at Best Buy because that was… it’s just a nice thing that you… it’s such an easy thing to do, and I think it goes to the heart of some of the things you’re talking about, and it’s something that people can take away from this podcast. And just tell us a little bit about that.
Yes, so Laura Gladney, actually, I saw her yesterday because she was in a program here at Harvard Business School that Linda Hill has put together for women of color and Laura was in the program, because I made sure that she would be. So when we started to put more emphasis, deliberately, on diversity, in particular as relates to the black community, after I realized, after seeing the employee engagement surveys and the differences across ethnicity, that our black community was really suffering. I’ll give credit to the HR team of having established this, they call it Reverse Mentoring Program. She was my mentor. Let’s be clear, there was no reverse. She was my mentor. And I didn’t grow up in this country. So my exposure to the history of the black community in this country was limited. But frankly, most of the white people in this country did not grow up in black communities, so it’s not just if you’re foreign born.
And this was such a gift because frankly, I had so much to learn and Laura, bless her heart, was so kind in sharing her life story with me, how her great-grandmother had been a slave and how the community she grew up in, that’s between Minneapolis and St. Paul, called Rondo, had been destroyed when we, the freeways, this country in the fifties, we built all of these highways and freeways, and many times they went through black communities, destroying black communities or separating black communities from white communities. And she also educated me. I remember, and I shared that with her this week, in one of my first meetings I said, “Actually, Laura, I don’t see you as a black person. I see you as a human being.” And her response was, “Hubert, are you blind? I am black. You know, I hope you see me as a black person because I have my black heritage and I want you to see me.”
And the reason why many of us attempted to say, I don’t see you as a black person, because we try to be very inclusive, but that’s a mistake. There’s no denial. She’s black. So let’s see her as a wonderful, beautiful, amazing, black woman with a wonderful family and aspirations and so forth. So we talk about the heart of business, this is connection through the heart and building these human connections. Human connections are the heart of business between the employees, between the employees and the customers; shareholders, they’re human beings. All of this life is about these human connections, and this mentoring program helped me on that dimension.
That’s fantastic. Stacy, I’m going to leave the last question to you because we are running out of time, but I’m sure you’ve got another question, obviously.
I do. So Hubert, for our listeners, you have charted a really provocative path. And what last piece of advice would you have for someone who’s trying to emulate that, who wants to be their own provocateur?
Yes. And the French do have a French word for provocateur. I think, Stacy, maybe it’s this: During COVID, when we couldn’t go outside, we had to go inside, and for every one of us slowing in this very uncertain, and sometimes scary world where it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen, and we’re clearly not in control of most of it. Going inside and spending time with ourselves, reflecting on who we are, what kind of a leader we want to be, how do we want to be remembered, another way to talk about our purpose in life, what are our key values? I think with this bunch of CEOs I was with earlier this week, we said in this time of uncertainty, it’s about purpose, principles. There’s a lot I don’t know, but what are key principles that are going to guide my actions?
And then it’s about doing my best. My good friend, Marshall Goldsmith, who’s been my coach for many years, he says I’m his most improved client. Which shows that if you start low enough, you can be the most improved. His advice to his friends and clients, either it’s every day or every week or every month, spend time with yourself and ask yourself, ‘did I do my best today or this week or this month to be the kind of leader I wanted to be.’ Not, ‘was I perfect,’ but, ‘did I do my best?’ And if I didn’t do my best today, be kind with yourself because there’s always tomorrow.
So in other words, go inside, slow down, define who you want to be, what you want to work on, what’s going to be important to you, and then meet regularly with yourself to see whether you’re doing your best and how you can get better. That, I don’t know. It qualifies as advice, because who am I to give advice? I don’t know who is listening, but certainly that’s a practice that has been helpful to me.
Fantastic. So the book is The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism, and we thoroughly recommend it. It’s available, it’s going to be, shortly, will be available in 15 languages. Hubert, you talked a little bit about the future, there. What’s next for Hubert Joly? What are you doing next? Are you going to work on another book?
I think, at some point, I may create a field manual for The Heart of Business. In the meantime, my passion, my main activities are here at HBS, helping the next generation of leaders. Designing – in fact, that’s my next meeting – a new program that we’ll have available next year in June called Growing Purposeful Leaders. So it’s for senior leaders, who’ve mastered a lot of technical capabilities and are ready to move on to the next stage and trying to equip them with what it takes to lead in this crazy world.
And so that’s my passion. It’s really helping the next generation of leaders become the best, most beautiful version of themselves they can be. The world needs them to be that way. If you’re leading a company today at any level, it can be daunting, but it’s also a huge opportunity to make a big difference in people’s lives. So that’s my passion.
Hubert, thank you. And thank you for being a provocateur with us today. And Stacy, thank you, too. That’s, I’m afraid, all we’ve got time for, but please do check out Hubert’s work. He writes regularly for the Harvard Business Review. And are there other places people can find you?
Well, thank you both. Yes. They can go to LinkedIn, my profile, so I’m easy to find Hubert Joly. I also have a website, HubertJoly.org and they can also email at , which is where Professor Joly, as my students call me, resides.
Fantastic. Okay. All right. Well, join us, again, soon, for another in the series of Provocateurs. Thank you.
Thank you both.