In October, a business and political novice named Hubert Joly entered the halls of The White House and was sworn in as the next deputy secretary of commerce for trade and manufacturing. On the face of it, Joly was yet another corporate fixer whose act was to use money and a magnifying glass to view public policy in the troubling aspects of the business-welfare state. His personal story echoed that of other CEOs in power, whether it’s Walmart’s Bill Simon or Altria’s Howard Lorber or other executives who have launched bids for public office. Like them, Joly will play the media game in Washington and address his new job in terms of broken, corrupt society.
“Well, at one point I decided to write a book, so I could convince Congress to go easier on business,” Joly told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota during a 2010 interview after returning from a trip to Washington.
Then came his bid for running Best Buy, where Joly earned a reputation for getting results on problems.
“Take out jobs, give jobs,” Joly told TechCrunch. “Instead of paying people $10 a product [when] that product is $60, and screwing them on it, or forcing them to pay taxes while you’re shipping products overseas. It is crazy. It is crazy. It is crazy on many, many different levels, but, unfortunately, it’s what’s happening in so many states. I can’t go by the regulations and rules. But you have to figure out how to use your existing permits.”
Joly’s troubles began when he announced Best Buy’s plan to close some 250 stores and lay off thousands of employees. The company was strapped for cash and, along with many other retailers, felt the impact of Amazon’s popularity and fast growth. Additionally, Joly was finding that the personal relationships he made while heading up a personal improvement course in Europe had become bureaucratic and fraught, compared to a transparent and nurturing environment, far removed from the corporate culture of big-box retailing.
“I am so energized by what people can do to change the lives of people and to push themselves, and in fact, you have to push the button to push yourself and not depend on other people, but to depend on your own self-motivation,” Joly said, “if not, then you don’t make a difference.”
Earlier this week, Joly posted a letter of resignation at Best Buy and announced that he would stay on as chairman. He helped the company search for someone to be best Best Buy’s President and chief executive. As the whole process unfolded, pundits have seized on Joly’s personality and painted his departure as being the result of disillusionment with the executive suite. They have also argued that private corporations need more charismatic leaders to stave off certain ills in the economy.