Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Find your purpose, then live it, Best Buy CEO tells business leaders

Lutheran paastor’s son admits he had plenty of false starts on the way to discovering his calling

On the same day Best Buy Corporation announced plans to open another 120 new stores around the world, its Chief Executive Officer told Twin Cities business leaders how he ended up running the highly-profitable electronics retailer. He also admitted it was a rocky road getting there.

Brad Anderson, an ELCA pastor’s son, told the roomful of professionals gathered at the auditorium of Thriv-ent Financial for Lutherans’ downtown Minneapolis office, “I got my Lutheran values in a pretty ordinary way: listening to my father preach for 20 minutes every Sunday morning. But like a typical rebellious teen-ager, who did not have an option to skip worship, I sat in the farthest corner of the balcony, as far away from the action as I could get without actually leaving.”

Anderson said he was no great scholar in high school, which almost derailed his career. “My high school guidance counselor told me some people were not meant to go to college, and I was probably one of them.” The 56-year-old business leader added, “Imagine my astonishment, ending up the CEO of a major corporation!”

He said, “I went to a Lutheran college, Waldorf (in Forest City, Iowa) where they gave people chances. I was one of the people they shouldn’t have let in, but did. It changed my life.”

After college, Anderson spent one year enrolled in Lutheran seminary. (“My preaching professor said, ‘Everybody has probably only got one good sermon in them,’ so I decided that was enough of that.”)

Not sure what else to do, he became a store clerk in 1973. “Needless to say, my parents were somewhat depressed.”

But, as it turns out, the clerking job he took was at Sound of Music, part of a chain of stereo stores that morphed into today’s giant, Best Buy. Anderson worked his way up through the ranks. He became a highly successful store manager and, in 1986, was promoted to executive vice president and joined the company’s board of directors. He became Chief Operating Officer in 1991 and Chief Executive Officer in 2002.

“People need to do what they love to do,” Anderson declared. “As a leader, my responsibility is to help employees find and embrace their passion.” He said, “Most human activity is to get a job done with, not to do something right.”

Embracing “servant leadership,” Anderson said, “Forbes Magazine named Best Buy the nation’s best company and put my picture on the cover. We should have had them put the picture of one of our blue-collar workers on the cover instead.”

Reflecting on what he learned in the Lutheran Church, Anderson said, “I resisted Christian teaching as a youth, but it works. I read the parable of the Prodigal Son and I realize I’ve been every one of the characters in that story.”