Leading with Purpose

Kira Ciccarelli

Leading With Purpose - Interview with Former Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly

What elements should be incorporated into a company’s core mission and values? How can leaders actively reflect and nurture those values?

Listen to Episode 55 on Apple Podcasts

Guests: Hubert Joly, former Chairman and CEO of Best Buy and author of The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism, and Colin McLetchie, President and Founder of executive coaching firm Five Ways Forward

Hosts: Dottie Schindlinger, Executive Director of the Diligent Institute, and Meghan Day, Senior Director of Board Member Experience for Diligent Corporation

In this episode:

  1. Inside an Extraordinary Turnaround: Joly details his actions at Best Buy which led to one of the most successful business turnarounds of the last decade.
  2. The Heart of Business Explained: Joly discusses his forthcoming book: The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism, and the philosophies which inspired it.
  3. Empathy and Leadership: McLetchie explains the value of executive coaching in an era defined by new and evolving aspects of effective leadership.


As we continue to move out of the pandemic, how can corporate leaders “do better?” In this episode, hear from Hubert Joly, the former Chairman and CEO of Best Buy, and Colin McLetchie, President and Founder of Five Ways Forward, discuss the future of leadership and how to lead an organization with purpose and empathy.

Inside an Extraordinary Turnaround

When Joly was brought in at Best Buy in 2012, the situation was bleak: the company was close to failure and Joly was advised by many to cut stores and headcount. His response: “We did the opposite. I spent my first week listening to workers on the frontline in a store in the Midwest. I wanted to fix what was broken.”

“The essence of the turnaround was building the right team at the top and listening to the people. People are not the problem; they are the solution.”

Hubert Joly, former Chairman and CEO of Best Buy

For Joly, the first step was listening to the people that made up the organization. The next phase was to figure out how to accelerate growth: “We had to define not only what we were, but what we wanted to become. We are a company that wants to address key human needs by using technology to enhance human life.”

A huge part of accelerating growth for Joly and for Best Buy were partnerships: “The customers needed Best Buy so that they could touch, feel, and see the product. The vendor community also needed us to showcase the fruit of their investments. Some vendors were building their own stores, but this was not ideal in many respects. Our model allows for integration of brands that can’t be done in one vendor’s store. So, this was good for both parties.”

Partnering with the top technology firms like Apple and Samsung, and competitors like Amazon, helped save Best Buy and propel them into the next decade. Joly sums up his philosophy on the matter: “The idea here is to refuse zero-sum games. We created win-win-win outcomes with vendors. Be obsessed by doing great things for customers, not by killing and competing.”

The Heart of Business Explained

Host Dottie Schindlinger asked Joly to explain a core philosophy in his book: that profit is an outcome of a successful organization rather than a goal. He expounds on this: “A company’s noble purpose is the intersection of four things: what the world needs, what are you good at, what are you passionate about, and, lastly, how you can make money.”

“The word needs a declaration of interdependence. My view of business is that a company is a human organization made of individuals working together in pursuit of a goal, which is aside from profit.”

Hubert Joly, former Chairman and CEO of Best Buy

As Joly puts it, “Every company now is talking about purpose. The key is to make this core. Your purpose is at the center of what you do: it is the cornerstone of strategy and you use that to unleash growth. Enable the company members to write themselves into the story. Sometimes you have to create a flourishing environment before you can have a core purpose.”

A robust diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy is essential here. Joly explains how this idea fits into a company’s noble purpose: “When you notice people, they’re inspired to do better: I am seen, therefore I am. Every employee needs to feel seen and respected.”

He connects this to current social movements: “The United States is becoming Black and brown. Why wouldn’t you include people who look like your customers in your business? We have a shot at shrinking systemic racism in this country.” He gives his observations on the last year: “I’ve seen business leaders making the journey from head to heart. The reason we have not dealt with these issues yet is that we have wrongly treated them as marginal instead of central. If we apply rigor and accountability, we can make needed change.”

Empathy and Leadership

Guest Colin McLetchie focuses in on individual leaders and the opportunities they have to nurture a company’s noble purpose: “My job is to help people see themselves in action to that they can make changes to the world. You can’t change what you can’t see or talk about, so I try to provide an opportunity to see and talk about issues.”

For McLetchie, this is the only way to become a more conscious leader. He iterates, “Our ability to see and understand the world around us and how we operate in it contributes to our leadership process. The inner game leads to the outer game.”

McLetchie explains the importance of empathetic leadership coming out of the pandemic, the resulting economic crisis, and social justice movements of the last year: “It took a pandemic for us to realize that empathy is a key differentiator in leadership. Many leaders have been forced into this moment where they need a skill that they either don’t have, or one they have not used deliberately.”

This represents a much-needed shift in perspective. McLetchie explains a common misconception: “Empathy is not a soft skill. It’s one of the hardest things about leadership and is it absolutely necessary both right now and far into the future.”

“Leadership, above all else, is about being a fully functioning human being.”

Colin McLetchie, President and Founder of Five Ways Forward

Also in this episode…

Why did Joly choose this particular moment to write and release his first book? His answer: “We would need to be blind to miss the crucial fact that we are facing a multi-faceted slew of crises: Economic, geopolitical, racial, and those related to climate change.” He goes on, “I wanted to let my voice and energy to the notion of purpose and human connections. What I preach is easy to say, but difficult to do. I’m writing to try and encourage leaders to abandon the old ways and to move forward.”

Resources from this episode: