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Post Leadership
Posted at 01:16 PM ET, 08/06/2012

Buying back Best Buy? Founder’s plan to retake the company brings its own challenges


Best Buy founder Richard Schulze is proposing to buy back the electronics retailer he created. (Justin Sullivan - GETTY IMAGES)

The founder of Best Buy, who stepped down as chairman of the company’s board just two months ago, is now trying to buy back the company he started.

On Monday, Richard Schulze, who owns 20 percent of the company, submitted a written proposal to the electronics retailer’s board of directors offering to buy all of the remaining shares at a price of $24 to $26 a share, which represented a 36 percent to 47 percent premium on the company’s closing price before the offer was made. He plans to finance the proposed acquisition with the help of private-equity firms, debt financing and the reinvestment of roughly $1 billion of his own equity, a news release said. Best Buy confirmed the receipt of the proposal, calling it “highly conditional.” Shares leapt 15 percent on the news Monday morning.

In his letter to the board, Schulze says he has “a plan to address the company’s challenges” and recognizes that the company has an “urgent need for Best Buy to reinvigorate growth” and for “bold and extensive changes.” Doing both will be extremely challenging for any incoming set of managers. Best Buy’s fiscal first-quarter profit fell 25 percent and the company is closing 50 large stores amid increasingly strong competition from Amazon.com and Apple.

But if Schulze is successful in his bid, he will bring with him yet another set of challenges. He will have to find ways to distance himself from the emotional tug of making the hard calls about a company he founded in 1966 and built into one of retailing’s biggest pre-Internet success stories.

The same institutional and industry knowledge that could help him re-envision the company’s strategy could also prevent him from approaching the company’s challenges with the fresh set of eyes a total newcomer would have. And unless a former executive takes the CEO job at the company (Schulze mentions in his letter he has been in touch with former CEO Brad Anderson and former COO Allen Lenzmeier), the founder’s “long shadow,” as the Wall Street Journal called it in April, could complicate the task of finding someone to lead the company.

Schulze may very well have the right answers for turning around Best Buy. And with a 20-percent stake that’s set to rise if his proposal works, he certainly has plenty of skin in the game. But as is the case with any founder stepping back in to rescue his “baby,” as some have called it, he brings with him an emotional relationship with the company that other buyers or leaders wouldn’t have. Working to keep that in check when he makes decisions could be the hardest challenge he’ll face.

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By  |  01:16 PM ET, 08/06/2012

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