San Antonio — The Progressive Retailers Organization was at the Westin La Cantera Hill Coun
Sir Howard Stringer, chairman/CEO of Sony, and Brad Anderson, vice chairman/CEO of Best Buy, separately and together exchanged opinions and insights at Baruch College earlier this month during a taping of the PBS program CEO Exchange.
The show, hosted by veteran TV journalist Jeff Greenfield, will begin its season on April 4, although an air date for this particular program has not been set.
In discussing current products, Stringer was asked about Apple's iPhone. "The good news is that Steve Jobs spotted a trend that we've seen," he said. "The phone is a convergence device, between music and a phone. We are all building variations on the same theme. We have sold plenty of Walkman phones [from Sony Ericsson], especially in Europe."
While Stringer is pleased with Sony's cellular phone progress, he said "I would never sit up here and say I'm not worried about Steve Jobs. I wouldn't bet against Steve."
About Blu-ray vs. HD DVD, Stringer was more pointed: "We are selling 3-to-1 against them. We have exclusives with Disney, Fox, Sony [and Lion's Gate] and they have the top 15 of 20 movies at the moment. At some point Blu-ray will take over based on ... this support."
He described HD DVD as a "transitional technology" that has "an exclusive with Universal ... so good luck to them. When hit titles came out last year, more came out on Blu-ray."
And when asked about the popularity of Nintendo's Wii vs. PS3 during last year's holiday season, Stringer noted, "Wii is a wonderful device, but has a different target audience. If we fail, it is because we positioned PS3 as the Mercedes of the video game field. PS3 is after a different audience
and it can be whatever it wants — a home server, a game device, or even a computer."
During his interview, Anderson shared his belief that looking outside the industry and coming up with different ideas are critical to a company's continued success. He related a story about the opening and closing of food stores in his hometown of Minneapolis when he was growing up. He always wondered why it was happening. Anderson said he now realizes, "What makes you win today will kill you tomorrow. You constantly have to find the 'next offer.'"
For instance, he said, "Ten years ago we thought of ourselves as the agent of the supplier. Now we think, 'What are consumers doing with this product? How will they use the product?' That's how we developed consumer centricity."
Anderson admitted he wasn't the greatest floor salesman at Sound of Music, Best Buy's precursor. In fact, he said he was so discouraged at one point that he tried to quit but his boss stopped him. Eventually founder Dick Schulze made him a manager. It would appear that Anderson's extensive background on the retail front lines has influenced his ability to understand the needs of his employees on all levels.
For example, Anderson mentioned that Best Buy is rethinking how and when its employees go to work with its "results-oriented work environment," or ROWE system, where workers develop their schedules with their managers in advance. Anderson said that this system has been implemented with the company's executives, but that it has also proven to be an important tool for other employees as well, "especially for those in the early stage of their careers."
ROWE enables the chain to attract more workers and create more loyalty to the company. The idea was developed by the blue-shirted rank and file at Best Buy, not corporate headquarters.
During the show's final segment, both men discussed their greatest challenges. For Stringer it is managing the two sides of Sony's business. "With content — music and movies — how do we sell it? How do we make devices for new content? And how do you keep Sony a premium brand [in electronics] during an age of commoditization?" He added, "I'm not complaining, it is very, very exciting this ... ever-changing chaos of the market."
Stringer later noted, "You can't be complacent. I visited Sony Ericsson and felt good about their performance. Then one of their engineers came over to me and said we were two years behind in a key technology. So sometimes you are in a perpetual state of panic."
Anderson said one of his challenges is that "it is possible to hear from more people than you ever heard from before. You have to figure out how to listen to the best ideas of 120,000 [Best Buy] employees. You have to listen to the best ideas ... and bridge the gap between the executive suite and the store level."
When asked the proverbial crystal ball question about what's next on the technology horizon, Stringer said, "There are variations on a theme here. You will see more Web content and video going directly to the TV without a PC, like our BRAVIA Web product. You will see content being paid for once and being able to be moved around the home, to TVs, PCs and the cellphone."
(For more coverage of this dual interview, visit www.TWICE.com.)