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How CEO Corie Barry kept Best Buy afloat during the pandemic

May 22, 2020, 12:55 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Sen. Amy Klobuchar is on Joe Biden’s shortlist, an attorney breaks a second Supreme Court record, and Best Buy CEO Corie Barry talks about leading through the pandemic. Have a glorious weekend. The Broadsheet will be off for Memorial Day in the U.S. on Monday—we’ll see you here on Tuesday. 

– Best Buy boss. For our Fortune 500 issue, our colleague Jen Wieczner talked to Corie Barry, CEO of electronics retail giant Best Buy (No. 74 on the list). This is Barry’s first full year on the job—and what a time to start!

She talked Jen about her decision to close all of Best Buy’s 1,000 U.S. stores on March 22, transitioning to delivery and curbside pickup—despite the fact that, as an essential service, the locations could have remained open. Barry said:

“It was becoming more and more evident that our employees were very concerned for their own safety. And this was met by this really high demand window, where customers really needed what we sold. We put all that in a blender. We moved to the curbside model in literally a matter of 48 hours. And we stopped going into people’s homes to install and do repairs. We just could not look our employees, our customers in the eye and say that that was a safe experience.”

Certainly not an easy call—though there were even more difficult moments to come:

“The single hardest decision was furloughing 51,000 employees. That is just not something that you would ever contemplate or write the manual for,” said Barry. “When we moved to the curbside model on March 22, we said we were going to continue to pay employees whether or not they were necessary in the new model, because obviously this requires just a much more skeleton crew of employees. We did that for four weeks. That’s [because] it would bridge people to when the federal stimulus program kicked in, and in many cases, that program actually would compensate them more highly than we might.”

Beginning this month, Best Buy started trying to create a new normal, reopening some stores using a concierge model, where shoppers make an appointment, then come into the store for a masked and socially-distanced shopping experience with the help of an associate.

The company reported Q1 results yesterday, and it seems that Barry’s leadership is paying off for the company’s bottom line. As Fortune’s Phil Wabha reports, the retailer’s online sales—which include curbside pickup—are up 155%. Best Buy managed to hold onto about 81% of its sales volume during the last six weeks of the quarter, something one Wall Street analyst called “amazing.” (For comparison, sales at U.S. electronics stores overall fell 61% in April).

While I doubt Barry would have picked this as her ideal first year on the job, it’s clear she’s stepped up to the challenge. As she told Jen: “Never has our purpose been more real.”

Read the full Q+A here.

Kristen Bellstrom
kristen.bellstrom@fortune.com
@kayelbee

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- VP report. Joe Biden has asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar to undergo vetting to be his running mate, CBS News reports. That doesn't mean that Klobuchar is definitely the pick, but is confirmed to be on the shortlist. New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan has also agreed to be vetted, New Hampshire station WMUR reported, while her colleague in the state, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, reportedly declined. 

- Supreme record. Lisa Blatt has argued 40 cases before the Supreme Court—more than any woman in history. The Williams & Connolly partner now holds another distinction: arguing the first case the Supreme Court heard virtually. She represented Booking Holdings in a trademark case over the name Booking.com. Wall Street Journal

- The right expertise. The World Bank has a new chief economist: Carmen Reinhart, a Harvard professor whose area of study is "international financial crises and financial meltdowns." Reinhart replaces Penny Goldberg, who left the post in March. Plus, from another global institution: IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva argues in a piece for the Financial Times that banks should halt dividends and buybacks to build capital during the economic crisis.

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Macy's controller and enterprise risk officer Felicia Williams will become interim chief financial officer, replacing CFO Paula Price. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Yes, and. Former Stitch Fix COO Julie Borstein yesterday launched women's shopping platform The Yes. The startup, with $30 million in funding behind it, delayed its launch from March, but is now moving ahead. Borstein says the company wants to get going to help the 150 brands that will sell through its platform, which are "feeling the impact of the retail stores closing." TechCrunch

- All Ears. Abigail Disney, the heiress and philanthropist who has spoken out about executive pay at her family's company and other progressive issues, is launching a new podcast. The show seems poised to break Disney further into politics, with guests including Cecile Richards and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The Daily Beast

- Insightful interview. Rowena Chiu was an assistant to Harvey Weinstein in the 1990s and says that he attempted to rape her in 1998 (he denies that allegation, although he has been convicted on other counts of sexual assault). Chiu, who left the workforce, shared her story in 2019, more recently than other Weinstein accusers. In this wide-ranging interview, Chiu discusses the fear she felt signing an ironclad non-disclosure agreement when she was 24, why she initially chose to remain anonymous when the floodgates opened against Weinstein, and her life now. Variety

- To the Full House. The highest-profile parents in the "Varsity Blues" college admissions case, Full House actress Lori Loughlin and husband Mossimo Giannulli, agreed to a plea deal after fighting the charges for months. Loughlin is set to agree to serve two months in prison. Fortune

ON MY RADAR

How Betsey Johnson built a fashion empire and lost her name The New Yorker

The inescapable pressure of being a woman on Zoom Vox

Bethenny Frankel's dark journey to find medical masks New York Times

PARTING WORDS

"We specifically used the term survivor’s guilt. ... Now that these are the circumstances, how do we [operate] in the most responsible, impactful way?"

-Kaylin Marcotte, of new puzzle company Jiggy, on what it's like to launch and run a successful business amid a  pandemic