Hubert Joly: How the Best Buy CEO wants to win back customers

Image copyright iStock Image caption Hubert Joly was brought in to help turn around Best Buy

Hubert Joly was not allowed at every shareholder meeting of Canada’s biggest telecommunications company. As CEO of telecoms giant BCE, he didn’t want anything to do with the vast media holdings. He found that holding meetings in the middle of the night was much more reasonable.

To prove that he meant business, Mr Joly ordered all employees to sign a code of conduct. They knew that they would be fired if they betrayed his values.

Two years later, he’s taking aim at the only fat phone network in Canada, and rolling out a corporate mantra: “customer first.” And he’s telling the shareholders that these cost-cutting measures are necessary to win back their trust.

BCE is Europe’s biggest telecoms company, and a dominant player in Canada. But its profitability has been sliding, partly due to millennials choosing to ditch their landlines and bring data and internet over the internet. Mr Joly needs to bring back the revenue before he can get ahead.

When you’re the CEO of the company, it’s easy to forget that if things don’t work out, you’re going to be the one to take the blame. Especially as the CEO is typically on-the-job training from the day he or she takes the job, with no job security.

Image copyright iStock Image caption Joly recently said internet speeds in Canada would need to be doubled to compete with nations like the US

At some of Canada’s other big companies, there have been some famous cases of boardroom debacles. In 2015, Air Canada parted ways with CEO Calin Rovinescu over a $15 million dollar pay package.

Last year, Tim Hortons’ owner Restaurant Brands International fired its CEO Daniel Schwartz after a number of stumbles. The company had sought to purchase Burger King and Tim Hortons from McDonald’s but the deal fell through.

And Canadian Tire founder Ed Clark was ousted after it was revealed that he had sold off about $175 million dollars worth of his shares. He told investors that he was resigning to spend more time with his family. (Also, surely he made a good retirement income?)

Joly says he’s turned this corporate tumult into a positive. “If somebody is destroying value, it gives you an opportunity,” he says.

Taking over a company that has long dominated its industry, Joly set out to bring competition to what he called the industry’s market place. With mobile service and internet service costing as much as one person’s mortgage, he says that customers should be able to choose their service providers.

And part of that model involves cutting labour costs, especially workers at phone exchange towers. These are the busy pits where lines of service in the company’s territory cross. Cutting them would be one way to help make the company competitive.

Critics say that this is only part of the plan.

Mr Joly has also called for an end to head-office job cuts. You’re better off “running in place and then you can reorganise in your head” instead of cutting costs, he said.

Many shareholders are warming to his rhetoric. And apparently, millennials have. In one TV ad, they’re extolling the virtues of better service.

Mr Joly says that as he aims to balance the corporate books, he feels personally obliged to deliver a better experience for all his employees.

Image copyright Brian Shuster Image caption Best Buy’s internet speed is about average for Canada

When told of Joly’s fresh, grass-roots approach, Arthur Wiener, who runs CBC Radio’s business program on Monday nights, says: “What if in this kind of corporate milieu you have CEOs who value their employees more than profit?”

“If you are not focused on your people, that’s going to drive customers away. That’s going to drive your shareholders away. And that’s going to drive your stock price down,” Mr Wiener says.

Joly has a lot to prove. His year at BCE lasted only a few months. He is now trying to implement his turnaround plan at Best Buy , which is highly dependent on its employees. But his reforms are far from universal.

AT&T is still trying to recover from the bruising ending of its merger with Time Warner. And Canada’s drug companies are still trying to remain profitable even after the government raised fees for certain drugs.

But in August, he scored a coup: A proposal was tabled to increase online sports betting in Canada.

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