After 15 years at the head of large companies, including Best Buy, which he turned around and revitalized from 2012 to 2020, Hubert Joly is now a professor at Harvard and founder of the Purposeful Leadership Chair at HEC. This New York-based Frenchman is in Paris for an HEC Talks. This was an opportunity to meet him and talk about the main chapters of his life and his book: “L’Entreprise, une affaire de cœur”.


HEC Stories: You are known as the great boss who saved Best Buy from a foregone conclusion. Why did you leave your position when you were at the peak of your career?


Hubert Joly: I felt that the time had come to hand over, especially because my team was ready to take over. The question then arose as to what to do next. I decided that I no longer wanted to be CEO. I did that for 15 or 20 years. I also considered that 60 is the new 40! For me, the next few years must count and will perhaps be the most fertile of my entire life. I asked myself the question of meaning. What will I do with these years? I want to bring my energy and experience to this urgent refounding of the company around meaning and the human, and help the next generation of leaders become the best and most beautiful version of themselves.


HEC Stories: You teach at Harvard, you created the Purposeful Leadership chair at HEC, and today you are publishing the French version of your book that is as philosophical as it is didactic, “L’Entreprise, une affaire de cœur”. Does work need to be rethought?


Hubert Joly: The desire to know the meaning of our life is universal and we all wonder about the meaning we want to give it. This is one of the foundations of the book, which stems from a journey of some thirty years. In the early 1990s, two of my monk friends asked me to write an article with them on theology and philosophy on the vast question: “Why do we work? Is it a punishment because some fool has done wrong in paradise? Is it what gives us access to leisure? Or is work part of a desire for fulfillment? Viktor Frankl said that work is a means by which we can fulfill ourselves. This is my opinion as well.


HEC Stories: Throughout the pages you challenge the familiar model of success by saying “the purpose of a company is not to make a profit (…) it is urgent and necessary to place meaning and relationships between people at the center of the redesign of our approach to business”. Is this change underway?


Hubert Joly: Yes, and there is even an acceleration in this direction. Even if I am an eternal optimist, it is true that there is an urgency: the world in which we live does not work. We have a health crisis, an economic crisis, major societal and racial tensions, an environmental time bomb, geopolitical tensions, it doesn’t work. What is Einstein’s definition of insanity? Doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Many people are aware that there is an urgent need to rethink the company and its economic model.


HEC Stories: Speaking of people, in the book you talk about the strategic partnership between Best Buy and Amazon, “the famous Goliath who was supposed to bring down the company”. This alliance between your companies surprised many people!


Hubert Joly: When Best Buy was dying, my team and I worked on our turnaround. We invested, in the customer experience to grow, cut costs to fund our investments, and were careful to treat downsizing as a last resort. And we partnered with the biggest companies in tech, including Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, Sony and Amazon. Amazon gave us exclusivity on its smart TV platform (Fire TV) to build into TVs only available at Best Buy. When we announced this partnership at one of our stores near Seattle, Jeff Bezos was there and highlighted the key role that Best Buy plays in the distribution of technology products. The journalists in attendance were in awe. Best Buy’s turnaround was achieved by applying the practices I explain in my book. Best Buy was in free fall when I arrived and 9 years later, the stock price has increased 10-fold; that’s not bad! This turnaround gave me legitimacy to talk about leadership principles for this new era we have entered. This book is a call and a manual for any leader who wants to move in this direction. We are all at least leaders in our lives, so this book is for all of us.


HEC Stories: In 2018, you decided to create the Purposeful leaderchip  chair at HEC, why?


Hubert Joly: What makes a good leader today is his or her ability to create an environment in which others can flourish. In my time at HEC, these skills were hardly ever addressed. Today, HEC rightly considers that its programs must help us develop leadership that is centered on meaning, the human being and all stakeholders. When we talked about this chair project with Peter Todd, the Foundation and Rodolphe Durand in 2018, we immediately agreed on a great ambition in this area: that all students should go through an apprenticeship on the subjects of meaning and humanity. HEC has thus become a pioneer in this field, which is one of its great strengths.


“My book is a call to rebuild the company around the values of meaning and humanity and to make a declaration of interdependence between all the stakeholders of the company. It is also a handbook for all of us who are moving in this direction and who know from experience that this is easier said than done”.



“L’Entreprise, une affaire de coeur”, published by Plon, €20. The book was published in the United States last May, with 60,000 copies sold and will be adapted into 14 languages. It is now available in French, Hubert Joly’s native language.


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