The Loss of a Champion: Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn
I first met the now infamous Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn in 2009 when I was lucky to be one invited to Best Buy’s Women’s Leadership Forum’s Annual Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. At that time, Dunn had only recently been through the transition from retiring CEO Brad Anderson. He was brand new in his C-suite job, and exhilarated about the future for Best Buy on the whole, and the future of the Women’s Leadership Forum (WOLF) program. Best Buy’s WOLF started well before Brian’s time as CEO of Best Buy, when Best Buy Leader Julie Gilbert recognized the need for connect and help one another get ahead. She spearheaded what quickly became one of the most well-respected and effective women’s initiatives in the Fortune 500.
As executives like Julie Gilbert, Liz Haesler, Mary Stoddart, and other strong Best Buy women stood on that stage in 2009, it was easy to see their passion for the work they did, and the company that empowered them to do it. It was in these moments I fell in love with Best Buy and with WOLF. You can imagine, then, the hesitancy that occurred when this man walked onstage after a parade of confident and strong women spoke. It was the opposite of most corporate conferences, and you could see that even Brian Dunn knew he was walking into a room full of extraordinary individuals, women who could change the face of his company.
I was inspired by Brian Dunn that day. He sat onstage and praised with total sincerity the uniqueness and the work of Julie Gilbert and her team, and the importance of the WOLF program at Best Buy. He committed, that day, to being a champion for WOLF and for women on the whole at Best Buy. And as someone who was inspired in the room that day, I’ve spent the last three years defending almost everything Brian Dunn did. When CNBC aired a special on Best Buy criticizing his commitment to the big box store, I was vocal to those around me about trusting in Brian’s vision. I have, countless times, called Brian Dunn a champion for women in business.
I, like many who have watched Best Buy’s bottom line and happenings these last few years, watched my jaw hit the ground on the news on Brian Dunn’s resignation recently. Rumors of misconduct involving a young woman both shocked and confused me. This man I only knew as a champion of women, this person who vowed to support women in business, to promote women’s leadership, how could it be that this man is the same man being accused of yet another C-suite sex scandal? It didn’t make sense to me then, and it doesn’t make sense to me now.
I don’t intend to defend Brian Dunn against the accusations leveled recently. I have no idea of their validity or gravity and don’t intend to assume anything. What I do know, from the standpoint of a consumer and an outsider who was lucky enough to be a part of the Best Buy fold for a time, I believe Brian Dunn was a champion for women in business. I believe he stood behind women in leadership and promoted the WOLF program. Was he a wolf in sheep’s clothing? I don’t know.
My call to action for Best Buy? Let’s replace a champion of the WOLF program with a champion of the WOLF program. I believe, as do many inside Best Buy, that WOLF can change the world, and it can and will change the face of Best Buy. I think even Brian would support the idea of putting a woman in charge. Forbes and other news publications are already stirring about Dunn’s replacement, and many are naming the President of Best Buy International, Shari Ballard, as a potential candidate. I’ve met Shari on multiple occasions and heard her speak on the same stage as Brian Dunn in 2009. She is a champion for Best Buy and a champion for women – just like Brian Dunn was.
Perhaps the photo above – taken at the event I attended in 2009 – was a cosmic foreshadowing of what’s to come. In the center sits retired CEO Brad Anderson, flanked on either side by none other than Brian Dunn and…Shari Ballard. Controversy breeds confusion, but let’s not let the controversy surrounding Brian Dunn’s departure confuse what’s next and what’s needed for Best Buy – a new champion for women.