Magazine article Communication World

Clearly, He's a Winner: EXCEL Award Recipient Brian J. Dunn Explains the Impact of Openness on Best Buy's Bottom Line

Magazine article Communication World

Clearly, He's a Winner: EXCEL Award Recipient Brian J. Dunn Explains the Impact of Openness on Best Buy's Bottom Line

Article excerpt

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When Brian J. Dunn, recently appointed chief executive of Best Buy, took the stage at IABC's World Conference in June to accept the EXCEL (Excellence in Communication Leadership) Award, he captured the attention of hundreds of communicators with his first few words. Dunn chose not to use a podium. And after interviewing him post-session, I can see why. With a booming voice and a broad smile, Dunn's delivery was funny, passionate and heartfelt. This man loves his company, and he's clearly dedicated to the 155,000 employees who have made it the leading consumer electronics retailer in the U.S.

Times have been tough for everyone lately, and Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Best Buy is no exception. Last year, as president and chief operating officer, Dunn found himself navigating a painful course that included a dramatic drop in sales and stock value, and a round of layoffs at the corporate support center. As with the podium, nothing stands between Dunn and his ability to communicate openly and transparently. His thoughtful, intuitive approach to communication helped the company pull through a difficult year with its culture and core values intact. In the following interview, Dunn walks us through that approach and explains how it has made a difference for Best Buy.

Natasha Nicholson: I'd like to start with how you handled communication in 2008, because it speaks to your approach regarding transparency.

Brian Dunn: It was a frightening year for people, and I think that as institutions--the banks notably, which people are so used to trusting and believing in--started to fail and have difficulties, I think people were looking for places they could hang on to and sort of get a real perspective. That was primarily what we were trying to do--this idea of "Hey, you know what? This is crazy, this is tough, here's what we're going to do about it, here's what we know so far, and we'll keep you in the loop." We had the fundamental belief that people would come out of this and there will be a new normal, and people will be a bit more pragmatic. I think if you're good, if you're of value to your shopper, that's going to continue to be really important. People are going to look for brands and people that they can connect to who actually care about the things they care about. I've been very up-front with our team about this. I think we're in a really great position here because of this notion of transparency and what we value, and the way we communicate with our employees is core to that.

NN: In your presentation you talked about how you're always learning about communication. What was the last thing you learned?

BD: I'm really floored by these social media sites and the explosion of them. I don't tweet, but I'm on Twitter. I very rarely post things. I listen a lot. And I'm just amazed at how many of our employees are out there. I have more than a thousand people following me, and it's employees and they communicate with each other there. I guess the thing that is my big "Aha!" is, if you don't engage in those social media places, you are missing where your people actually are. It used to be the bar or the coffee shop or the restaurant where people would talk about this, and now people across the country and across the world are able to access each other and compare notes. You have to be there.

NN: And do you feel like you've sort of cracked that nut? BD: I would love to sit here and tell you we've cracked the nut. I would tell you that we are further ahead than many in understanding that we have to crack the nut and expose, warts and all, who we are. The truth of the matter is, your employees know what you're good at, they know what you're not good at, so this notion of having a public face--you know, getting your makeup on before you do anything--it's ridiculous.

NN: Communicators are struggling with their company leaders wanting to maintain that sense of control. …

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