Best Buy’s new chairman has a big challenge

  • Article by: DAVID PHELPS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 15, 2012 - 6:54 AM

Best Buy's new board chairman thrives on challenges - and has taken on a big one at age 67.

Best Buy's incoming chairman of the board -- Hatim Tyabji -- knows about tough challenges and new adventures.

He has skied after heart surgery, bungee jumped from Victoria Falls, swum with great white sharks off the shores of Cape Town and scaled Mount Kilimanjaro for his 42nd wedding anniversary.

And now he has a new mountain to climb, so to speak, as he takes the helm of the consumer electronics giant that's floundering in a changing retail environment and reeling from a corporate scandal. Those who know Tyabji say he is an Internet visionary, a bit of a daredevil and a proven driver of business success stories.

"He's got a long, successful past in the realm of technology," Edward Jones analyst Matt Arnold said of Tyabji. "The board's near-term challenge is to sustain the earnings power of the company. And if they can do that and reposition the company, then investors will look back on this as a deep value opportunity."

Tyabji, 67, is well versed in the world of corporate governance, a trait that will work to his benefit as he replaces Richard Schulze, the only chairman the Richfield retailer has ever known. Schulze agreed to step down next month in the wake of the relationship scandal that led to the departure of CEO Brian Dunn in April.

Tyabji, who joined the Best Buy board in 1998, is chairman and chief executive officer of Bytemobile, a Silicon Valley mobile Internet infrastructure provider. He's also chairman of Jasper Wireless, a global networking device company.

Tyabji previously served as chairman and CEO of Verifone, a virtual company created a decade before the Internet.

Along his corporate career path, which has included about 20 board memberships, Tyabji also served on the board of Shoreview-based Deluxe Corp. and was chairman of the board of Datacard Group, the Minnetonka-based company that makes secure financial cards and identification programs. At Datacard he was known as a sales-driven taskmaster.

"He was a very active chairman. He thought big, creative thoughts," said Neil Crocker, a former vice president for marketing and product management at Datacard who now is president of Shaefer Ventilation. "When you made a presentation to him, you had to bring your 'A' game. He asked hard questions and had high expectations."

Stabilizing the ship comes first

At Best Buy, Tyabji will replace the company's founder and still the largest shareholder and take over an enterprise that is reeling in the marketplace and looking for a new chief executive to successfully turn the bricks-and-mortar giant into an Internet-savvy electronics competitor.

Analysts believe Tyabji will first seek to stabilize the ship, then find the leadership to drive the business forward.

"More than likely the board will hold judgment on the company's next strategy until the next CEO is found," Arnold said. "The board needs to send signals to the investment community that it's doing what's right for all constituents, including consumers and shareholders."

Tyabji did not respond Monday to a request for comment. But in an article in the Economic Times of India last year, the Mumbai-born businessman said, "I only put money in companies that I believe in."

In his biography for Bytemobile, Tyabji is said to embody the words of playwright George Bernard Shaw, and later Robert F. Kennedy: "Some men see things as they are, and say, 'Why?' I dream of things that never were, and say, 'Why not?'"

According to that biography, Tyabji defied a doctor's prediction that he would never ski again after three heart attacks and open-heart surgery. But after three years he was back on the slopes.

An adventurer, Tyabji also has done cliff jumping and taken trapeze lessons. In 2007, he published his book about family and career called "Husband, Wife & Company: An honest perspective on success in life and work."

Crocker said that Tyabji's adventuresome side was evident when he was at Datacard when board and distributor meetings were held in such exotic locales as Goa, India, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

"He definitely left some big marks at Datacard," Crocker said. "I was amazed how much he knew about the company. He read everything you provided him. At Best Buy, he will be totally engaged."

David Phelps • 612-673-7269

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Hatim Tyabji