Best Buy CEO faces alleged misconduct probe

Source: Best Buy video
Jan 20, 2020
Tom Ryan

Best Buy Co.’s board is investigating allegations that CEO Corie Barry had an inappropriate romantic relationship with a former fellow executive.

The allegations were sent to the board in an anonymous letter dated December 7. The letter claims Ms. Barry had a romantic relationship for years with Karl Sanft, who’s last position at Best Buy was leading U.S. retail store operations, before she took over as CEO last June. The allegations were first reported Friday by The Wall Street Journal.

“Best Buy takes allegations of misconduct very seriously,” Best Buy said in a media statement. The company has retained outside counsel to conduct an independent review.

The letter, which was also sent to the Journal, The Minneapolis Star Tribune and other news organizations, was signed by “We are Best Buy” and indicated the party represents “a group of employees” across several states. The group called for Ms. Barry to resign or be fired. Best Buy called for the group’s authors to “come forward” to help with the investigation on a confidential basis.

Ms. Barry replaced Hubert Joly, who led the electronics retailer’s turnaround and remains executive chairman. Mr. Joly joined Best Buy in 2012 after the previous CEO, Brian Dunn, resigned over a personal relationship with a younger female employee. 

The #MeToo era has brought new scrutiny to a wide range of workplace misconduct, ranging from discrimination to sexual harassment, assault and inappropriate relationships between executives and subordinates. In November, McDonald’s fired its CEO for violating company policy over a consensual relationship with an employee.

A difference in the Best Buy situation is that Mr. Sanft, who left his position in March to become COO of 24 Hour Fitness, was at one point a boss of Ms. Barry. The investigation of Best Buy’s first female CEO will also be taking place in the public eye.

Ms. Barry, who is married with two children, said in a statement: “The Board has my full cooperation and support as it undertakes this review, and I look forward to its resolution in the near term.” 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How should retail businesses govern personal relationships between coworkers, particularly those that include individuals in management? Do you think Corie Barry can still effectively lead Best Buy in light of the allegations made against her?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"It puts into question the judgement of these executives. There have been so many publicized cases like this and the end outcome is never good."
"Nothing cleanses like sunlight. So BBY’s investigation into Ms. Barry’s and Mr. Sanft’s past behavior seems like a prudent course of action."
"The best way to govern personal relationships is with well-written policies and transparency from employees who may be in violation of the policies."

Join the Discussion!

19 Comments on "Best Buy CEO faces alleged misconduct probe"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Art Suriano
This is a tough call. One’s personal life should be considered their own business as long as it doesn’t interfere with the job. However, it also depends on company policy. Some companies state that dating among employees is not allowed, while others have a completely open policy. In the case of Best Buy, if the company has policies stating rules about one’s personal life such as dating, etc. and if the employee accepts the position working for the company, then they are expected to abide by the rules. Whether Corie Barry broke those rules will have to be determined. I’m an old-fashioned guy who feels love is love, and no matter what a company may attempt to control, love will find its way around it. However, I also understand that management must set a good example, and if married people are having relationships behind their spouse’s back, then I can understand a company having a problem with that. We will have to see how this turns out, but based on the article and company policies… Read more »
Michael Terpkosh

Retail businesses need to watch and learn from these types of issues and establish and/or maintain in-depth policies to govern personal relationships at work. Then when an issue arises, the retail business can address the issue in a firm and fair way for all involved parties. These situations are never easy and all employees watch how a retailer addresses these situations. Retail business leaders need to evaluate their current policies and, if I might say, also evaluate their HR teams to make sure they are strong and ready to tackle these type of issues at any level in the retail organization.

Ben Ball

Unless harassment or coercion of some kind is charged, companies should stay out of people’s personal lives.

George Anderson

I’ve also seen company morale negatively affected where a top executive had a relationship with an employee leading to a perception that the underling was getting a break on subpar performance as a result of that association. That’s clearly not the case for Ms. Barrie, but something that should be considered in the development of a company’s policy as well as an executive’s decision to enter into a relationship with a coworker in the first place.

Dick Seesel

This is unfortunate on several levels, especially because of the collateral damage being done to the families caught up in the story. But let’s be clear: The definition of “wrongdoing” depends on Best Buy’s specific policy about relationships with co-workers. If there isn’t a blanket prohibition, and the policy involves only those with reporting relationships, this story is still complicated. (Ms. Barry reported to Mr. Sanft, not the other way around.) There is probably heightened scrutiny of CEO behavior inside Best Buy given its history, but the process needs to be fair to Ms. Barry.

Suresh Chaganti

It puts into question the judgement of these executives. There have been so many publicized cases like this and the end outcome is never good. Reputations get tarnished, stakeholders lose. This is a huge distraction all around for Best Buy, and the CEO’s executive authority is now compromised.

Ian Percy

Unknown accusers and very little information of the actual circumstances. Not a good foundation for someone to make an impactful judgement. Of course leaders, especially the most watched leaders, need to have the discipline to make wise choices. But so do those readily inclined to level accusations without the courage to stand up and take ownership of those accusations.

I’m trying to decide with which proverb to end, please vote below:
a.) Judge not lest you be judged.
b.) Let those without sin cast the first stone.

Peter Charness

Allegation is not guilt. If everyone who was accused of wrongdoing had to step down there would be a much smaller pool of people left to run companies.

Ian Percy

If any! We are a self-righteous society so prone to judge others, aren’t we!

Ed Rosenbaum

This is a difficult call. First, company policy has to be clear on how to manage the situation when disclosed. In this case both parties are not now in the same company. I doubt Ms. Barry was appointed CEO by someone like Mr. Jolly because of anything but her job performance. I say pass and move on doing what is important to the continued growth and success of the company.

James Tenser

Nothing cleanses like sunlight. So BBY’s investigation into Ms. Barry’s and Mr. Sanft’s past behavior seems like a prudent course of action.

Like some others here, I’d prefer to keep corporate interests out of the personal lives of employees to the extent possible. But appearances matter too, especially for individuals in positions of power. Once a relationship like this comes to light in a public company, some fallout is inevitable.

Ms. Barry will surely be tested as a leader while this matter is played out. Was her career path accelerated by her relationship with Mr. Sanft? If so, there may be calls for her resignation. But risky choices in matters of the heart are not always equivalent to abuse of power.

Doug Garnett

Somehow, our modern world is struggling with the reality that we are human — and that means both intellectual and biological animals. While we clearly can’t condone, and must fight, horrors like Harvey Weinstein, we are also asking very human people to work in very close quarters with other humans — and then asking them to “turn it off, like a light switch” (In the brilliant words of the “Book of Mormon” musical).

I will begin to find hope again when we see articles attempting to sort out how people can remain human and work together — without a demand for some kind of ethereal perfection.

In this case, I’m saddened because it’s been good to watch the business advancement of Best Buy over the past few years. Since this pre-dated (apparently) her tenure, does it really matter?

I know the absolutes — and the news loves absolutes. But what is the human response here?

Shelley E. Kohan

The best way to govern personal relationships is with well-written policies and transparency from employees who may be in violation of the policies. A reduction of the status differences in organizations has given rise to all levels of the organization being accountable to conduct issues. All employees should be treated fairly and equally when it comes to conduct issues, especially the CEO-leadership includes being the role model. As it stands now, the allegations are just that, allegations. If the allegations are unfounded, then Ms. Barry can overcome this issue over time (although it depends on how she continually responds to the allegations). If the allegations are confirmed, then she should be treated according to the stated policy.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

Clear policies are essential, as are ramifications for violating them. When one is (and one’s employees are) distracted by these types of allegations, investigations and general unrest, the corporation suffers.

Craig Sundstrom

Is the letter disclosing a legitimate concern or is it just libel? Without knowing that, it’s hard to know what the outcome is, or even what it “should” be. The fact that this isn’t BBY’s first such incident is telling, though I’m not quite sure what it’s telling us: do they have a problem with boundaries or did the earlier incident (just) facilitate making baseless charges. At this point the proper response for everyone is to sit back and allow the investigation to proceed … without forming any preconceptions.

gordon arnold

Corporate cost cutting often goes too deep. The fact that an allegation investigation this high up the ladder must take pace at all points to an unaligned executive staff with torn professional relationships at best. The company is at stake here and any and all issues need to be debunked at once. This is about investor money as well as investor and customer confidence.

Personal conduct and performance are exactly what business arrangements are about. Like it or not, it is the company and its employees that customers choose to like, trust and do business with. The vast majority of people/customers are very reactive to behavior, appearance, presentation and rumors, true or false, and very quick to silently say no to subjective conclusions which they themselves deem objectionable. This is where most employment contracts are insufficient in supporting a separation without compensation resulting in costly litigation. Meanwhile the company is bleeding profit to death’s door.

Jim McElroy

The discouraging part of this story is that the anonymous letter writer went public right away. To me that suggests more of a personal vendetta than any concern for the company, or they would have given the board some time to investigate and take action. I’ll be shocked if “they” (more likely he or she) come forward voluntarily to “help” the investigation.

Jeffrey McNulty

I believe in you are innocent until proven guilty. With that being said, I would hope this is not another CEO showing extremely poor judgement while negatively impacting their organization.

April Sabral

It is a difficult one indeed. Working in the field and in retail operations for over twenty years, I am a strong believer in keeping your personal and business relationships separate. However, I also worked with people that met the LOVE of their life and ten years later are happily married with a family. They may have missed this. At the end of the day, performance should be measured on her leadership and if there are no allegations against her then she should be able to continue to lead.

"It puts into question the judgement of these executives. There have been so many publicized cases like this and the end outcome is never good."
"Nothing cleanses like sunlight. So BBY’s investigation into Ms. Barry’s and Mr. Sanft’s past behavior seems like a prudent course of action."
"The best way to govern personal relationships is with well-written policies and transparency from employees who may be in violation of the policies."

Take Our Instant Poll

How would you grade Best Buy’s public reaction regarding the news alleging an improper workplace relationship involving its CEO?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...