4 posts categorized "Julie Gilbert"

May 10, 2008

Adding their Best to Best Buy

In 2006, I interviewed Julie Gilbert of Best Buy. At that time they had 120,000 employees, today they top 140,000. Then, Julie was a Vice President of WOLF (Women's Leadership Forum) and Entrepreneurial Initiatives; now she's a Senior Vice President of Retail Training, Learning and Innovation, Winning With Women, and WOLF. On top of all that, she also has taken on Sustainability issues, turning Best Buy into a woman-friendly, earth-friendly corporation. My kind of woman.

According to a recent profile, "Through her leadership in WOLF, Best Buy increased female market share by more than $3.6 billion, increased the number of female job applicants by 37 percent, and reduced female employee turnover by 5.7 percent." Hummm.... Best Buy has 20,000 women employees, that means 1140 stayed at Best Buy because of the WOLF program. Cool.

GilbertApparently Julie wants to do better than 5.7%. On Wednesday this week, she was in town (Anaheim, CA) with about 1000 other "blue-shirters" and WOLF Omegas (women who are not part of Best Buy). The Blue Shirts and the Omegas formed one, big brainstorm to continue exploring why employees and customers stayed with Best Buy and why others left.

Fortunately, the conference was only about 5 minutes from my place, so I was able to join Julie and other manager and Omega types for happy hour at the Hilton. Since this conference was all about making women happy, I took with me a request from Eco-Mom, Kimberly Pinkson. She wanted Best Buy to, Take back the e-waste [recycle] and show her what they are doing with it. "I don't want my old computer to end up over in Africa polluting the landscape for the kids over there," Kimberly told me.

Kimberly will be happy to know that Best Buy is working on the beginning of that wish list. According to Julie, they are doing a test in three stores located in Minneapolis, Baltimore and San Francisco. People can take any kind of e-waste to the store regardless of where they bought it. Currently at all Best Buy stores you can recycle print cartridges, batteries and cell phones. They are also greening up the buildings as well adding solar panels.

When it comes to the "show me" part. Kimberly isn't alone e-waste disposal, over at Envio Mom they addressed the same concern. Trust, but verify! No one wants to recycle only to find out that we messed up some other country's back yard. I have two old computers sitting under my desk for that very reason. I don't trust where they'll end up if I take them to a recycling center. That picture in the National Geographic of E-waste in third world countries is too vivid. I'll be the first one to champion Best Buy's program when they are able to show and tell the full story.

TaihaI also visited with Omega consumer, mom and small business owner Taiha Wagner. She was there, traveling with her incognito sister to answer questions from Best Buy employees. Taiha was encouraged by Best Buy not to hold back (she didn't) and wasn't given any advice on what to say before she came. (Taiha's the one with the white shirt)

So why would you love a company as an employee and customer?

Over on Best of Mother Earth, Karen Hanrahan explores why she stays with her company. It started with products that she could trust as a consumer of eco-safe cleaners. Years ago she had to switch to a chemical-free lifestyle as cleaning agents bothered her health. When she found products that allowed her a way to not only live safely, but also make a living she was hooked and never left. "They just fit who I am as a person," Karen told me. "I've always been told I'm a mother earth sort, and these products let me live that life."

The more I read blogs and pay attention to what women want, it always comes down the same thing, give them something they can believe in - oh, and prove it.

October 30, 2006

Trusted Women make the NY Times and WECAI

Did you catch the NY Times article on "What Do Women Want"?  My Ask Patty pal, Jody DeVere is featured in it as an example of what women want in the car industry.  It turns out that another new friend, Julie Gilbert of Best Buy's Women's Leadership Forum is also quoted. Both were mentioned as examples of what's working in the marketplace. Ask Patty is doing it's best to bring women and car dealership to a new level of understanding. Julie and Best Buy is doing the same by reaching/teaching women from the sales floor to the front door via their Geek Squad initiative. Business is starting to see the benefits and profits when it embraces it's feminine side.

The NY Times isn't the only place that talked about what works for and with women. This weekend was the kickoff for WECAI's Women's Internet Marketing Summit. What's that you ask? Oh just another idea by Heidi Richards the founder of WECAI. I stumbled onto WECAI and Heidi last year. This year, I can't go anywhere without seeing her typeface prints. She is determined to get women wired and working on the web. To do so she has tapped the best of the best and to keep it within a women's budget and accessible, she made it all virtual.

I logged/called in to hear Yvonne DiVita, Toby Bloomberg and Susan Getgood speak on "Harnessing the Blogosphere". They were joined by Marianne Richmond and Jeneane Sessum. They all cut to the chase of what you should know before you "write" a wrong. That session alone is worth signing up and getting the podcast and powerpoint. If you're in business, it's a MUST hear/read especially if you want to work with women professionally.

I stayed to also hear Lena West "Creating Your Internet Marketing Strategic Plan" and by then I was hooked for the day. (Lena guest blogs on Yvonne's Lipsticking)

The event is still running, feel free to sign up. It's not women only, just women focused. You'll get podcasts of events that you missed.

Congratulations to Jody, Julie and Heidi for focusing on women and proving that it works for everyone.

October 05, 2006

Best Buy's Julie Gilbert and the WoLF pack's first foot prints

and now... for that second Margaret Mead Moment that is changing corporate social structure and creating a new path for other retail stores to follow.

First, I'd like to thank Julie Gilbert the Vice President of WoLF and Entrepreneurial Initiatives at Best Buy for inviting me to last week's WoLF's conference in Minneapolis. WoLF stands for Women's Leadership Forum and it's the first time I've seen real self development offered at such a high caliber. For a crash course on WoLF, go here. For a fast idea of how WoLF will change the business structure as we know it, continue reading.

Over 1600 women (and some men) took part in the 3-day event designed to boost leadership skills and foster cross-company networking opportunities between women employees. Everyone was jazzed to be there. They all knew that they were on the vanguard of something that has never been done before, not with such sincerity of purpose on a corporate level anyway.

The  workshops focused on a single mission, to let the women of Best Buy know that they matter as individuals and that Best Buy is willing to invest big money in its commitment to them. Workshops were structured to help women gain control of their personality, their personal life and with those two houses in order, their professional contributions to Best Buy. Yes, companies have been doing this for some time, but again not at this level and not for ALL women.

WoLF packs contain women cashiers, entry level sales as well as those with corporate titles and everyone had equal access to the same top notch facilitators. That kind of exposure doesn't go unnoticed or unfelt. The internal word-of-mouth buzz around Best Buy this week has to be deafening. Everyone is going to want to be part of a WoLF pack - even men.

This wasn't a rah rah party to keep the women of Best Buy happy, but a continuation of a core program started 2.5 years ago by Julie to promote internal networking and build new leaders. Why the push? First, because it's the right thing to do. Second because Best Buy has the numbers to show that the more women they have per store, the higher the sales. In stores where the staff is comprised of 5 men for every woman, the comparative store profits are up an average of  5%. When the ratio is 4 to 1, it's up 7% and when it's 3 to 1 it's up 10%.

That's stunning. As far as I know these stores didn't increase training or radically change their offerings, they simply hired more women and let them do what they do naturally on their own - be helpful. Customers responded.

If you know any women who need a part-time or full-time job, get them to a Best Buy. Besides the fact that they'll be treated with a new-found respect not known in entry level jobs, they'll have an opportunity to rise in the ranks. I met many General Managers who all told me the same thing, "I started as a cashier [or sales person] and now I'm a General Manager."

The big change from my outside eyes looking in, is that it's going from a sales-driven organization to a customer helping organization. From a company based on helping themselves (i.e. Enron), to one that's helping others. For anyone watching the retail or business-to-business scene that's a dramatic switch. It's the difference between a company that uses a commission sales structure to increase business and one that pays sales people a salary. It's what Saturn did for the car industry. When the commission structure is gone, so is the cut-throat mentality. Sales people can turn their energies into being helpful instead of selling for the sake of selling.

Ultimately, it's the customers who win under this structure, especially the women customers who thrive and buy in an atmosphere of helpfulness vs. gamemanship. Men are benefiting as well. Not all guys are born again geeks on the early adopter side of the bell curve. Many know little about electronics or appliances and need the same type of help as women, but they don't want to ask. Under the emerging Best Buy platform, neither gender will have to feel stupid while buying or using the tools to function in a techno society. They'll have a place to go for to fill in the holes in their thinking.

Was I impressed? You bet. My last brush with corporate drove me out of my own cubical and back to the sanity of the self-employed. I couldn't handle being nothing more than a cog in someone else's wheel. Selling my soul wasn't an option. Under this new Best Buy structure, however, no one has to sell their soul.  The WoLF concept is still a baby in corporate development terms, but if what I saw was sustainable outside of a conference setting, then a entry level job or a titled one can fill your soul as well as your wallet and customers go away happier than before.

Best Buy has a long way to go before the average customer will feel this change in atmosphere. When you have hundreds of stores and 120,000 employees spread all over the planet, change doesn't happen overnight. But with WoLF increasing communication through horizontal networking it will happen much faster. That's a competitive difference other companies will want to copy.

August 19, 2006

How do you create a retail revolution? Julie Gilbert at Best Buy, Inc. is doing it one WoLF pack at a time.

Julie_gilbert_best_buy “If we are loyal to each other and we bond together with other males, we can reinvent the company and the industry.” Julie Gilbert

Today’s INSIDE LOOK features Julie Gilbert, Vice President of WoLF and Entrepreneurial Initiatives at Best Buy, Inc. WoLF stands for Women’s Leadership Forum which was Julie’s personal project while she was the Vice President over Best Buy’s Premium Customer Segment. It's a networking group functioning inside the corporation.

“WoLF is a movement to develop amazing leaders,” Julie told me, “If we want to be a great place for women to shop, we have to be a great place for women to work.”

Julie is on a mission, to have Best Buy’s female employees contribute to their individual futures as well as the company’s future direction. It’s based on woman-to-woman networking and came out of her concern regarding the lack of women-to-women mentoring opportunities. Out of need and “inspiration” she created a way for Best Buy’s female employees to network, learn, and create from each other and at the same time build business for Best Buy. Her WoLF packs aren’t part of HR, marketing or sales and yet all three departments benefit from the packs. 

WoLF is a combination of building leaders who happen to be female and using their unique perspectives to turn the company into a female focused organization and serve the $55 billion female consumer electronics market. Women actually outspend men today in the consumer electronics, but the industry was built by guys for guys. As Julie says, “It’s a different world today”!

What started as a way to help women become better leaders at all levels, however, is transforming Best Buy and creating a new business model based on “real” relationships regardless of title, education or gender.


MARY: Welcome Julie, what terrific news for the women of Best Buy.

JULIE: It’s a good time for Best Buy men as well. I just received an email from a guy who is involved in WoLF and he said that he has not had such a powerful experience in his 18 year career.

MARY: This isn’t the first time you’ve connected the disconnected. I read that before you came to Best Buy that you co-created a new business at Deloitte and Touche by merging the taxation and consulting divisions.

JULIE: I was a senior manager there and noticed that the two divisions didn’t communicate with each other well. It was almost like one group was “blue” and the other “yellow.”  My interest in consulting and curiosity caused me to think of a new business opportunity that combined the two and then spent the next six years building the new business across the country.

MARY: Before this new WoLF position, what did you do at Best Buy?

JULIE: I created and led the team that created Magnolia Home Theatre, which is now the largest high-end home theatre in the world. I also co-created a venture which launched Virgin Mobile in the U.S. from a Best Buy perspective.

MARY: I’m impressed… with those two successes, I can see why you get the support that you do. I read that you have a Masters in Strategy and Marketing from Carlson School of Management and a CPA. That explains how you can identify a business opportunity and then be able to prove that it will be profitable. 

JULIE: The financial side of my brain is always thinking, “How can we make money from this”? In turn, that’s the challenge I present to the WoLF packs, to come up with ways to improve their own career and also make Best Buy more profitable. They go hand in hand.

MARY: Why WoLF? Which came first, the name or the initiative?

JULIE: The dream! No, really… I was touring Best Buy stores as part of my Premium Segment job where female employees frequently hugged me. One day, about 2 ½ years ago, I asked one why she did it. She said, “You give us hope that we can one day become you.” It made me want to help women more directly. That night I had a dream and woke up at 2 am. Growing up in South Dakota, I often heard the howls of wolves or coyotes howling in the distance during full moons. In my dream, I heard the same thing, but instead of wolves or coyotes, it was women’s voices. Inspiration struck me and I realized that each of us feel alone like a stray wolf but if we are loyal like wolves are loyal to each other, and we bond together with other males, can reinvent the company and the industry. AND we can build amazing leadership skills in the process.

MARY:  I can see why the pack structure would work, providing a place for women to speak freely and support one another is a key element in how women interact. They can’t do that inside the current business model, it’s too hierarchal in structure. When did you start WoLF and how many women are participating?

JULIE: I started it the day I had the dream, while still in my Premium Segment role. I literally launched the first WoLF pack on October 12 which was one week after my dream. In August 2005, I transitioned to do it full time. This year, we will have impacted directly more than 10,000 employees as well as thousands of people outside of Best Buy through “Community Give Backs” which is a core pillar of the program.

MARY: I know Best Buy has about 120,000 employees worldwide, so that means about 10% of Best Buy is already benefiting from the program?

JULIE: Yes ,that’s correct.  To be clear, not all 10,000 are in WoLF packs. We actually have 7 ways for both women and men to participate. The first, of course, is to be in a WoLF Pack. We have 21 packs of 27 people across the country today. Next, Community Give Backs - pack members like to volunteer time back into society. We have quarterly events across the country to ensure they have an opportunity to do that. Third, agree to be a Network Partner. They must want to mentor another WoLF anywhere in the country. It probably should go without saying that those in the packs are committed to their career at Best Buy. Part of a pack’s success is the membership longevity. It’s hard to know and support one another if you come and go quickly.

Each year we sponsor an Annual Event which we’ve been doing for 3 years – last year we had over 1700 attendees from the U.S., China and Canada. We also had 45 other companies join us as well. Next month [September] we have 1600 attending a 3 day event. Another way to participate is Just Be You.  In this, we have the first group called the Dancing Wolves which is an actual hip-hop dance group. Its purpose is to illustrate what it is like to express yourself like you should be doing in your job each day with new ideas, and just bringing your “whole self” to work. We’ve had about 300 participate so far.

Inside the WoLf packs you can be an Alpha WoLF. These are leaders of the packs and they must go through a nomination process and then be interviewed for the positions on the packs across the country. And for those who want to participate but can’t because of the size limitation on the packs, we have a Be My Guest Program. Anyone can be a guest at any of the meetings or activities.

MARY: Ok, I have to hear more about the Dancing Wolves...

JULIE: That’s kind of our fun thing that’s also instructional. You know how stupid you feel when you’re first learning to dance? You don’t know the steps and your moves are sloppy and you’re embarrassed that everyone is looking and laughing at you? Learning how to dance (for real) is also our metaphor for learning how to take on anything that you don’t feel comfortable doing - first it’s the mis-steps, then you get your footing and finally you are so confident that they can’t get you off the stage. This is a place where the women can try out their steps both literally and figuratively.

MARY: I can see why being on in a pack is both inspiring and fun. Do many apply?

JULIE: Yes. Everyone wants to be part of something that has such a positive impact and they all know what type of person we’re looking for - if they have a high career commitment, can network and giveback, we want them in the pack.

MARY: Women already do a lot of volunteering, why is it important to make it part of the pack culture?

JULIE: First, because it’s the right thing to do and second because you learn more communication and coaching skills, gain empathy - all of that makes you more human and everyone benefits.  It is this skill that will ensure they are truly great leaders—investing in other people and finding ways to help them be successful.

MARY: Other than as a guest, how do men participate?

JULIE: Men can participate in all 7 ways and do.  On Wolf Packs, Each pack has 25 women and 2 additional men for 27 total. The men have to apply and adhere to the values as well. To be honest, they are just as excited as the women to be included. It’s interesting because they get to hear the stories that women share about what it is like to enter a room and not have their hand shook and how that instantly makes them feel like an outsider. Men don’t go through that same experience, not as much, anyway. There are just enough “men” in the room to remind the women that Best Buy serves both genders, but not enough to stifle the conversation. If my emails are any reflection, like the one I mentioned earlier, being inside a WoLF Pack is a positive experience for them as well. 

MARY: How do you put the packs together? Are they all customer service people for instance?

JULIE: No, in fact that’s what we don’t want. You can’t build your career path if all you know is people on your level. The packs deliberately contain people of all rank and title. We’ve discovered that as the women talk, the rank tends to disappear. The important thing is that the women get to know each other and learn how to build out their own “network” of associates.
MARY: Besides being personally beneficial, I can see where women customers would be more apt to patronize a Best Buy store that treats its employees with such respect. What about the business side of the pack, are the packs coming up with new Best Buy programs?

JULIE: We have innovation projects launched on the packs to reinvent the company. For example, one of the projects is a Job Share innovation pilot to build a capability where professionals in stores could share a job to ensure we keep talent that may not be able to do the full-on retail hours.

MARY: I’m sure parents appreciate that and anyone else who has to split up their personal and professional life. What about the customers, can they feel the WoLF influence yet?

JULIE: You’ve heard of the Geek Squad, right? It’s a company within Best Buy that helps customers trouble shoot their electronic problems. Recently we’ve seen where the women geeks, we call DIVAS [Dynamic Intelligent Vivacious Agents with Solutions] have turned up more business simply by being… well… women. They may be called out to a home for a computer problem, and then the homeowner feels so comfortable with them that they take them to a second electronic snafu and so on. Sometimes they even invite them to dinner.

MARY: I didn’t know the Geek Squad had women, I’ve only seen the guys in action.

JULIE: DIVAs are fairly new, but because they see things from a woman’s perspective they are uncovering issues the guys might miss. One of our Geek Agents-Kat S., was very passionate about educating parents on the risks their kids face on the Internet. [Child predators can easily find kids based on information they share freely with the emergence of sites like myspace.com and others.]  She created a brochure and training for parents so that they will be educated on this and ensure their children are safe. It's called the Internet Lingo Guide for Parents, Keep Your Kids Safe.

MARY: What a very needed idea. Did you put the information online as well?

JULIE: Yes. There was such a high demand that we put it on the front page of the Geek Squad and added other things since then. The brochure itself is in the Best Buy stores that have Personal Shopping Assistants throughout the country or what we call "Jill stores."

MARY: I’m sure you’d like to have more Geek’s (or DIVAs) like her.

JULIE: Actually we’ve partnered with many organizations to build female linkages.  One of these is Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School in Chicago to build a pipeline of agents specifically for the Geek Squad. I guess you’d say it’s a women-helping-women program.

MARY: Really? I met some women at BlogHer that will be happy to hear that. Finding ways to encourage girls to go into technology was a big concern during the tech session. I have to admit though, that women-helping-women isn’t normally how you visualize Best Buy, are you afraid it will hurt it’s image? 

JULIE: This isn’t about marketing, it’s about changing the way all women perceive technology and helping them to do that through education and support, both as employees and consumers. It’s also about changing the way we relate to one another, and becoming better leaders through helping others be successful.  If you are an amazing leader, you can accomplish anything you wish.  The best ideas happen when people are allowed to think freely - and howl once in awhile…

MARY:  You got that right! Thank you Julie for not only leading the women of Best Buy, but defining a whole new business model for other consumer companies to follow. I have to go now,  and load up on Best Buy stock. 

For more information on Best Buy and the Women Leadership Forum email [email protected].