HEC Paris EMBA Speaker Series: Participants Join Hubert Joly for First HEC Talks of 2022

Ex-Best Buy CEO and HEC Paris alum Hubert Joly was on campus yesterday for a riveting discussion on the merits and mantras of purposeful leadership. Guiding the discussion were members of the recently arrived EMBA January track.

In a 2017 appearance on US business news network CNBC, Hubert Joly, then-CEO of American technology retail behemoth Best Buy, provided an inadvertent microcosm of his leadership effect and ethos.

“We’ve become relevant again,” he beamed. It had been five years since his appointment as CEO. For the first time, Best Buy had been in the S&P 500’s top 10% in shareholder returns for five years running.

“I couldn’t be prouder of what our associates have accomplished.”

Before his arrival, Best Buy had been floundering in a cutthroat retail environment dominated by the likes of Wal-Mart and Amazon. Many assumed he was boarding a sinking ship when he was named CEO in 2012. Still, he orchestrated a turnaround dubbed “Renew Blue,”  which reversed the bleak fortunes of his firm via innovative customer service, product selection, and personnel development initiatives.

Righting the ship and then launching it into profitable orbit is Joly’s modus operandi. So, too, is lavishing praise on the individuals, teams, and organizations— from the top-down— who carry out the work.

Leading purposefully

Today, the senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and alum of HEC Paris’ Grand Ecole has taken on a new role: championing the banner of purposeful leadership. His strategy playbook-cum-corporate treatise, “The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism,” is the North Star of that campaign.

He joined the HEC Paris community on January 25th for the first of 2022’s HEC Talks, entitled “Purposeful Leadership: The New Business Revolution.”

Moderating the discussion were EMBA participants Nishaat Tajbhai and Nicolas Lahaye from the newly arrived January track. The rest of their track mates, along with students from the HEC Paris MBA and Masters programs, were also in attendance at Blondeau Auditorium.

Hubert Joly and HEC Paris EMBA

Hubert Joly and HEC Paris EMBA’s at Blondeau Auditorium


“You guys are training in the EMBA to be the world’s foremost leaders,” Joly said, stressing that “the leadership model of the 20th century, where the leader is the star who believes he knows all the answers and tells everyone else what to do, is obsolete.”

“The biggest mistake I made in my younger years was believing that being a leader was all about smarts. What I’ve learned over the years is that you need to use the rest of your body—the heart, the soul, the guts, the eyes—too. It’s important to accept that it’s okay not to be perfect and to make mistakes. The best leadership phrase I’ve ever learned is “my name is Hubert and I need help.”

With guiding questions from Nishaat and Nicolas he outlined the terms of what it means to be a purposeful leader. He often reached for anecdotes from his prolific career as an executive in Europe and in the United States, along with lessons learned along the way.

“pursuing purpose is not at the detriment of performance—it’s actually a way to create an amazing performance”

“What do you think would prevent a leader from being really purposeful?” Nishaat asked.

“Being anchored and centered and aligned with who you are and who you want to be is the starting point for a purposeful leader,” Joly said. “Life is not linear—it’s not a straight line of improvement. There are going to be ups and downs. So pursuing purpose is not at the detriment of performance—it’s actually a way to create an amazing performance.”

The years of experience he accrued from the lofty perch of Fortune 500 CEO have given him a trove of insights to share. The real-world impact of responsibly—and enthusiastically— managed diversity within a company was one of the most pertinent.

“A big mistake I used to make was that I went to recruit people who looked like me. Big mistake. If, for example, Lehman Brothers was named Lehman Brothers and Sisters instead of just Lehman Brothers, there’d have been a different outcome.”

Watch the replay of his discussion here:

More CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies have graduated from HEC Paris than any other university in Europe. Nearly 4,000 graduates are currently CEOs, CFOs, or have founded their own companies. According to the Financial Times, the HEC Paris offers the best EMBA program in the world; click here to learn more.

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