Former Best Buy CIO Robert Willett Retires

Written by Evan Schuman
November 12th, 2009

Best Buy on Wednesday (Nov. 11) announced the retirement of one of the industry’s most well known and respected IT leaders, Robert Willett. But the circumstances surrounding the retirement announcement are fueling questions.

The 63-year-old Willett has been at Best Buy since early 2004 and is leaving with the title of CEO, Best Buy International. He had served as corporate CIO, a title he held along with the CEO International title until Neville Roberts assumed the CIO title in late May 2009.

But the way the retirement—slated to go into effect December 31—was announced was unusual. First, Best Buy issued an unusually terse statement that Willett will retire, adding that Best Buy “does not plan to name a successor to the specific role of International CEO.” Given the various senior titles Willett had, conspicuously missing was the usual “Bob made wonderful contributions to the business over the years and his contributions will be sorely missed.” Indeed, beyond a single reference to his name in the statement’s first sentence, Willett wasn’t referenced at all—not even in the headline—in a statement solely about him.

Adding to the mystery is a report from Dow Jones on Wednesday (Nov. 11) that referenced an SEC filing. “The move comes despite special stock-option awards granted by the company’s board in May as part of a long-term incentive program designed to retain Willett through at least February 2011,” Dow Jones reported.

Willett had actually worked with Best Buy before he went on payroll in 2004, serving as “a consultant and special advisor” to the Best Buy board of directors “on matters relating to operational efficiency and excellence,” according to Willett’s bio. His pre-Best Buy career included serving as the global managing partner for retail at Accenture and “store management” with Marks & Spencer. His bio then says—without more specifics—that Willett “has held executive positions of managing director and group CEO at other retailers in Europe.”

Given Willett’s stellar IT and global reputation, it’s unclear what prompted the retirement announcement. But it seems almost certain there’s a lot more to this story still out there.


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