Story Magazine - Fourth Quarter, 2003

Best Buy CEO Contemplates Faith and Leadership in the Workplace

by Sheri Booms Holm, director of publications

It was like one of any number of breakfasts where local business leaders gather to learn from one of their own. But instead of talking about increasing profits or expanding markets, the question pondered was: How does my faith apply to my work?

Luther Seminary invited Twin Cities area businesspeople to a special breakfast at the Minneapolis Club on Oct. 28 to hear from Brad Anderson, vice chairman and chief executive officer of Best Buy Co., Inc. Anderson and his wife Janet are members of Luther Seminary's Leadership Circle; Janet is a trustee of the Luther Seminary Foundation and serves as its chair-elect.

Throughout his speech Anderson went back to the theme of "failure." What could the CEO of a $23 billion company know about failure, and what does that have to do with faith? Quite a bit, as it happens.

Anderson calls himself a "failed seminarian." He attended Northwestern Seminary (one of Luther Seminary's predecessor institutions) one year, but greatly disliked his homiletics (preaching) class. "I laugh about it now, because I do so much public speaking," he told the audience.

After leaving seminary, Anderson went to the state employment office for help finding a job. One look at his sociology degree and seminary education, and he was told "good luck." He took a job at a small store called Sound of Music "because I could listen to music and get paid for it," he said. After a couple of days he tried to quit, but they talked him into only giving his notice. Soon, he found he enjoyed his work, and was pretty good at it, too. He worked his way up to manager. But Sound of Music was in a poor financial state. The owner drove out to meet with Anderson because he liked his ideas, and hoped some of them could turn the floundering company around. Today, that company is Best Buy.

Throughout his career, Anderson has had what he calls "theatrical failures."

"I'm public about the mistakes I make. I have to be honest and face consequences or I won't learn from them," he said. He likes to use them in his presentations to show that a company can't be frozen with failure. Any company that is going to grow requires that people take risks, he explained. "Risks mean failure every so often. Employees need to know that they can fail and still be part of the team, otherwise, no risk and no growth for the company." It's important to admit failure and then move on, Anderson continued. And that's where faith comes in.

"Look at the concepts of sin and forgiveness. Look at their application from a business link," he said. "With the best of intentions can come the worst decisions.We profoundly need forgiveness."

When asked about what he feels is his calling, Anderson reflected that calling isn't a warm and fuzzy "isn't that nice and fulfilling" concept. He pointed out the "dangerous callings" in the Bible, and how difficult it was for many to accept. "Moses didn't want his calling. But there is a sense of calling outside the man--it's bigger than I am," he said, adding that, for him, "calling has a very different meaning now. It's about creating a culture of accountability."

This culture of accountability pervades Best Buy. "The mission of Best Buy is 'to make technology and entertainment products affordable and easy to use'," Anderson said. "This is what the top 50 companies have in common--the commitment to something larger than themselves--greater than making money. An organization needs something people can hold onto and build, based on trust. The ideas that work must be true."

Anderson adheres to four core values in his company:

1. Honesty and integrity,
2. Embracing challenges and change,
3. Unleashing the power of people,
4. Having fun while being the best.

All of these are ways of helping both Anderson and the Best Buy employees feel a sense of call in the work they do.

And these translate into basic Christian values, too, values the employees recognize. Anderson told a story about visiting a top performing store in South Los Angeles. Before he arrived the employees were encouraged to make signs similar to what one would find at a football game. Anderson walked through a sea of people holding signs declaring, "We're #1" and "Go Team!" When he came to the last sign it read "John 3:16." The individual holding the sign said to Anderson, matter-of-factly, "You know what this means, don't you?" "Yes," Anderson replied, "I do."

Want to Learn More About the Connection Between Work and Faith?

Centered LifeSM, an initiative of Luther Seminary that helps congregations uncover, support and utilize members' gifts for ministry in daily life, recommends these resources for learning more about the faith-work connection:

Whistle While You Work: Heeding Life's Calling, by Richard Leider and David A. Shapiro. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2001. Personal stories help the reader learn how to discover gifts, passions, values and calling for work.

The Monday Connection: On Being an Authentic Christian in a Weekday World, by William E. Diehl. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1991. A supportive spirituality for Christians working in the real world of Monday morning. Through helpful stories, Bill Diehl illustrates effective tactics for changing your workplace and life.

Healing the Purpose of Your Life, by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn. New York: Paulist Press, 1999. An exploration of how we discover our unique callings and develop them as gifts-- for ourselves, others and the earth.

Church on Sunday, Work on Monday: The Challenge of Fusing Christian Values with Business Life, by Laura Nash and Scotty McLennan. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001. The author suggests ways church leaders and lay businesspeople can work in partnership to bridge the gap between pew and pulpit. spirituality@work: 10 ways to balance your life on-the-job, by Gregory F.A. Pierce. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2000. An invitation to pause, reflect and act with the God who is already present. Pierce boldly confronts and honestly evaluates our struggle to find meaning in the workplace.

Listen! God is Calling! Luther Speaks of Vocation, Faith and Work, by D. Michael Bennethum, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003. An excellent resource for developing the skills to listen for God's call in every aspect of one's life.