Best Buy’s CIO Offers His Crisis Agenda Advice

Best Buy’s CIO Bob Willett advises targeting customers, growth, housekeeping and communication.

As this recession continues, on which areas should CIOs stay laser-focused?

CIOs can play a key role in leading the company through this crisis. Because the CIO and business information systems touch every facet of the organization, CIOs have a valuable perspective that they and their businesses must leverage. The four focal points I use are the following:

1. Get closer to customers that matter.

Every customer’s important, but there are customers that are more important-the ones that generate the biggest percentage of your profit. Getting close to customers doesn’t necessarily mean you going out to meet them-the business has to do that. But what you and IT have to do is figure out how to use technology to get the business closer in the short term.

2. Strive for good housekeeping.

Cash is king in a drawn-out economic crisis. Companies don’t go bust because of low profitability; they go bust because of poor cash flow. We have been taking every contract that we’ve got, every partnership with every vendor and asking if we are getting the most out of the relationship.

3. Concentrate on organic growth.

Most companies have 20 per cent to 30 per cent and sometimes 40 per cent of systems that don’t add value. These systems have a lot of people tied to them. Shut those systems down and take those people and reallocate them to your growth strategies. At Best Buy we are reducing our capital spend by as much as 50 per cent this year. We will realign those resources into the growth areas of the business and accelerate those areas that differentiate us.

4. Over-communicate.

Continue to tell the truth about the situation the company is in and face the tough questions. (See ” The Zen of Focus.”) That’s how you can really find out what people are thinking, but also how you can genuinely help. Limit meetings to one day a week. Spend the rest of the week ‘walking the talk,’ discussing with people how you can help solve problems together.

A quote from Churchill I remember from when I was a boy is, “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” In this period, there’s nothing more sobering than that thought. Giving isn’t just about giving money; it’s giving ideas, helping and being supportive and providing leadership. You’re going to come out of this in better shape than when you went in, for your customers and your employees.

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