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Best Buy CEO talks pandemic, importance of diversity at CES

No one could have imagined that webcams would be among the hottest tech products of 2020, but that’s exactly what happened in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic — and Best Buy had to act quickly to serve consumers’ shifting needs.

“Our hypothesis around enriching lives through technology became instantly the reality for every single person,” CEO Corie Barry said. “All of a sudden, we were stuck at home. Kids were learning from home, and employees were working from home. We were entertaining from home, we were cooking from home — everything, overnight, became available on the back of technology.”

Best Buy’s response to the pandemic was one of the main topics Corie discussed during a virtual appearance at CES on Jan. 12 that also covered the importance of diversity and the future of technology innovation. The annual event, which typically draws about 175,000 attendees to Las Vegas from across the consumer-electronics industry, moved entirely online this year.

During Corie’s conversation with Fortune CEO Alan Murray, she noted that Best Buy’s primary focus throughout the pandemic was on keeping everyone safe while continuing to meet customers’ essential needs. The company, for example, accelerated its planned launches of contactless curbside pickup and free digital consultations with tech experts — innovations that are now here to stay.

“We set three guiding principles right at the beginning of the pandemic. It was to keep employees and customers safe, it was to protect the employee experience as much as we could for as long as possible, and it was to come out of this not just a vital company, but at vibrant one,” said Corie, who’s in her second year as CEO. “And in all decisions, we were trying to strike the balance between those things.”

Beyond the pandemic, 2020 also brought the killing of George Floyd, a tragic event that put a spotlight on racial inequity and the significance of inclusion and diversity efforts at companies like Best Buy.

“One of the things that’s always been core to our value system is the importance of inclusion and diversity,” Corie said. “It is an imperative that we reflect our communities. It’s been proven time and again that diverse teams produce better outcomes.”

Last month, Best Buy announced a five-year plan that commits more than $44 million toward diversity, inclusion and community efforts. It set major company goals for recruiting, hiring and retaining employees, and how we’re expanding opportunities for youth across the country.

“We feel strongly that we need to continuously think about ways in which we can set the goals for real change, not just here but across our country,” she said. “I think the message that I have is one of resilience in this work. It is not just about this year or this moment in time. It is about how each of us continuously is iterating and thinking about how we drive change for the long term.”

Click on the video to watch the full 30-minute interview.