Corie Barry makes no apologies for who she is — a working mom, a first-generation college graduate, a female in the male-dominated top of corporate America.
Barry, named Monday as the next CEO of Best Buy, said effective leadership means taking in the perspectives of colleagues with different journeys.
Barry, who turns 44 this week, will take over as chief executive of the Richfield-based consumer electronics giant after the annual meeting on June 11, becoming one of seven Fortune 100 female CEOs and one of the youngest chief executives among top public companies.
Current CEO Hubert Joly said he’s had one of the best working relationships of his life with Barry, calling her a “very human, authentic, purposeful leader.”
Joly said she reaches out to people at all levels of the organization as she figures out a strategy for the company. And she genuinely wants what’s best for other employees.
Mary Hinton, president of the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, can believe it.
She said Barry gives back immeasurably to her alma mater. She serves on the college’s board of directors and on its finance committee, making sure people look at the human effects of their decisions, not just that they balance the books.
Barry says yes to as many events with students and young graduates as she can and also meets each year with a group of prospective students and their parents to promote the benefits of a liberal arts education, Hinton said.
“She really provides guidance and steps up,” Hinton said.
Barry also serves on the board of overseers for University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Business and on the corporate board of Domino’s Pizza.
After two years as an auditor at Deloitte & Touche, Barry joined Best Buy as a financial analyst. Over the years, she moved up to lead finance teams. As she advanced in the company, she also took on operational roles, including interim president of the Geek Squad at Joly’s invitation, before leading the strategic growth office. In 2016, she was named chief financial officer.
Barry said her wide range of jobs was not an accident. “One of my preconceived beliefs was that a breadth of experience was very important at a large company like this.”
Barry said as you move up in an organization, the job becomes less specialized and the skills of critical thinking, problem-solving and communication start becoming more important than technical strengths.
Barry said Joly is a master at that. He brought a human face to Best Buy, making needed changes when morale was low and its culture needed to be modernized.
“In any large organization, at some point you realize the only way to be successful is together,” she said. “You need to realize everyone’s journey” and how it brought them to a particular Best Buy job. That way, you can understand what motivates them.
Having a clear corporate mission helps that decisionmaking because keeping Best Buy successful takes more than chasing competitors. You need to have your own stake in the market, she said.
Barry grew up on 5 acres outside Cambridge, Minn., about an hour north of Minneapolis. She was raised by two artists who traveled across the U.S. to sell their creations at fairs, festivals and shows.
From them, she said she learned a strong work ethic.
She also said that as artists her parents tried to fundamentally make the world better. However, the “organic life” of artists, while inspiring, was not always full of stability or structure.
From an early age, she strove to create her own routine. Always with support, she said, she assumed she would go to college. She just had to figure out how. She worked at a young age. She made sure her grades were good. She joined clubs and sports teams.
Her early life taught her to take ownership of her decisions — and also to make sure the personal investments she made would pay off.
That payoff — be it in a career decision for herself or a strategic decision for Best Buy — is always on her mind, she said.
But she did not see herself in a top spot at Best Buy until the former chief financial officer, Sharon McCollum, arrived. Her former boss wasn’t afraid to be fashionable and smart.
Leaders need to be comfortable with who they are, she said. Through her years at Best Buy, she has seen the people who stumble have a conflict with “who they are as a person and who they are as a leader at work.”
If you are a workaholic, own it.
For herself, she models a flexible lifestyle, acknowledging that work-life balance is never perfect.
Some days, she will leave early for a baseball game or concert. Others, she will work long hours to finish a project.
And on trips to New York City to meet with investors, she might miss some events but will capture some Pokémon Go icons there and FaceTime with her kids, 12 and 9, to see how their days went.
Everyone must have a road map to life and priorities, Barry said. But she also said you must be willing to shift when the map changes.
Now Barry said she feels the responsibility of leading a $43 billion company that employs 123,000 people and whose growth could create livelihoods for even more.
Barry said she is grateful to lead a company that she, like many Minnesotans, has known since childhood. As she was growing up, she was a regular thanks to her grandparents at Best Buy’s predecessor, the Sound of Music.
“I’ve always loved this company,” she said.