Best Buy (finally) names international chief

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  • January 19, 2012 - 11:53 AM

Last fall, I interviewed Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn about the company's struggling overseas business. I asked why the company did not have an executive to specifically oversee its sprawling international portfolio.

Down the road, as Best Buy International continues to grow and evolve, Dunn hinted that he might restore the international CEO position.

"There may come a time when we might add one or two positions in the space," he said.

That time is apparently now.

On Monday, the Richfield-based consumer electronics giant named Shari Ballard president of Best Buy International. Ballard, an executive vice president, previously oversaw the company's North America operations along with executive vice president Mike Vitelli.

It was an odd arrangement: two executives sharing responsibility for North America with no one exclusively overseeing international.

The company used to employ a international chief. Bob Willett was CEO of Best Buy International before he retired in 2009, just months before the company was to debut in Great Britain. The timing seemed odd, especially since Willett was a former executive with Marks & Spencer, one of Great Britain's top retailers. You'd think Willett's experience might have come in handy.

Under the new leadership structure, Vitelli will run U.S. operations while Ballard will supervise Canada, Mexico, China, and Europe.

“Shari’s wide range of Best Buy experiences has enabled her to develop a deep understanding of Best Buy’s culture, how we operate at scale and the critical importance of balancing customer, employee and financial success, “ Dunn said in a statement. “I’m very pleased with Shari’s early success during her two years of overseeing operations in Mexico, and I believe under her leadership we will continue to improve our international operations and improve long term profitability.”

Ballard, a former assistant store manager who quickly moved up the ranks, can hopefully restore some measure of sanity to Best Buy International.

Last year, the company shut down its branded-big box stores in Turkey, China, and Great Britain. Best Buy also comfirmed rumors that it might re-open stores in China, a move that confused and angered some on Wall Street.

International sales have also been in a free fall. The company recent said international sales at stores open for at least a year in December fell 4.3 percent versus an 0.1 percent decline in the same month in 2010.

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