Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYSE: BBY) founder and largest shareholder Richard Shulze is flying from his Florida home to Minnesota this week to meet with CEO Hubert Joly as the troubled electronics retailer prepares for a holiday shopping season that will signal whether the company can turn itself around or whether it will go the way of former rival Circuit City, which collapsed in 2009.
The meeting, reported by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, comes as the clock ticks toward Shulze's December buyout deadline and the company issues its fiscal third-quarter results on Tuesday morning. It also comes as the retailer prepares for Black Friday and the rest of the holiday shopping season -- a performance that will be the earliest hints to the effectiveness of Joly's turnaround strategy.
“I think everyone is expecting more of the same,” said R.J. Hottovy, chief financial analyst at Chicago-based Morningstar, referring to the company’s early holiday season performance and its dismal performance so far this year, which helped drag down its shares 41 percent.
“But they will look for how successful certain initiatives Joly put in place are to see if they’re having any positive effect in the early holiday period, such as the price-match offer, e-commerce, store-level traffic and the conversation rates; they will look to see if there are any improvements in these areas.”
Less than two weeks ago 71-year-old Shultze was given a 30-day extension to his deadline to make a buyout offer to take the Richfield, Minn.-based company private. Schulze had offered $24 to $26 a share this past summer, when the company was trading around $20. On Monday the company’s stock was near its 52-week low, at $13.82. If the offer were to stand at the original price, up to $11 billion including the company’s debt, it would be the largest private acquisition of a major retailer since Albertson's LLC was acquired by Supervalu Inc. (NYSE: SVU) of Eden Prairie, Minn., for $16.1 billion in 2007.
Two key players in Schulze’s buyout efforts will also attend: former Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson and the company’s 68-year-old former President and Chief Operating Officer Allen Lenzmeier, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, citing an unnamed source close to the negotiations.
Anderson is the 64-year-old longtime Schulze confidant who had been with the company since 1973, when it was a small chain of home-stereo stores called Sound of Music, according to the executive's bio at travel group Carleson Companies, Inc. of Minnetonka, Minn. He retired three years ago and was replaced by Brian Dunn. In April, Dunn stepped down amid allegations of an inappropriate relationship with an employee, a scandal that also cost Schulze a position on the board. Schulze said in August that he wanted to bring these two men on board to implement his turnaround strategy.
Whether the talks this week with the company’s current CEO revolve around the buyout offer, the meeting will also give Joly, who took the helm of the company in August, the chance to speak with three men with longtime Best Buy experience. Joly, 53, has been praised for his turnaround work as CEO of Los Angeles-based Vivendi Universal Games and Carlson Companies, Inc. of Minnnetonka, Minn., where Anderson currently holds a board seat.
"Dick is our biggest shareholder, and Hubert is the CEO," Matt Furman, Best Buy's senior vice president of public affairs, told the Star Tribune. "It's not at all surprising that they would meet from time to time, just as they have in the past and just as they will certainly do in the future."
Best Buy, which has a market capitalization of $4.82 billion, is reporting its fiscal third quarter on Tuesday before the stock market opens. It’s expected to report earnings per share of 12 cents on revenue of $10.8 billion, according to Zacks. In its second quarter the company reported earnings of 4 cents per share on revenue of $10.6 billion.
With the busiest shopping day of the year on Friday, followed by a steady rise in consumer holiday shopping, the company’s third-quarter results aren’t as important to gauging progress in the company’s turnaround as how sales perform in the current quarter. The initiatives Joly has set in place – such as the price-matching offer announced last month, where the company will join competitors in meeting online price points for the same products – are only going into effect in the current quarter.
Shares rose 17 cents to $13.92 in afternoon trading.