Geek Squad founder Robert Stephens leaving Best Buyby Martin Moylan, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The founder of the Geek Squad, Robert Stephens is leaving Best Buy.
The giant consumer electronics retailer paid Stephens $3 million for the Geek Squad a decade ago, when it was a small start-up operation. Stephens is now moving to California but will continue to be a "technology scout" for the consumer electronics retailer.
Best Buy took the small Twin Cities computer servicing operation and made it a central foundation of its business model. Now the squad has some 20,000 agents who help customers with their consumer electronics — everything from computer repairs to home theater installations. The agents drive signature black-and-white Volkswagen beetles and wear white shirts and skinny black ties.
Those geeks are a big part of the retailer's services business — which accounted for about $3.4 billion in sales in Best Buy's most recent fiscal year.
Stephens was eventually named the retailer's chief technology officer. He said he was initially anxious about how he and his company would fit with Best Buy's corporate culture. He wondered how long he would last at the Fortune 500 company. But he said it was a great gig.
"I'm on the executive leadership team,'' he said."I was in the boardrooms, in all the meetings. And I was included very much," Stephens said. "But I was also given freedom basically to do what I want. So, you can't really ask for much more than that."
Stephens said the deal worked out well for both companies. Each changed the other for the better.
"I think Geek Squad grew up and matured," he said. "And I think Best Buy rediscovered part of its mission through services and the Geek Squad."
Stephens will continue to work as a technology consultant for Best Buy. But he will focus on creating new companies.
"There are four themes that will probably always be at work in my life: service, technology, brand and culture," Stephends said. "Wherever companies can be reinvented or reinvigorated in those areas, that's where you'll find me."
Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn said his company has benefited immensely from Stephens' insights and contributions. In a blog post, Dunn wrote, "Robert is also a born entrepreneur, and, frankly, I knew it was only a matter of time before his curiosity and his desire to create something new would lead him to look outside the walls of Best Buy."
Analysts say at this point Stephens' departure won't affect Best Buy much.
"He was integral to building the Geek Squad business, certainly from the ground floor, and helping to integrate it into the overall Best Buy framework," said R.J. Hottovy, a retail analyst with Morningstar. "But given that they acquired this company sometime ago, I think the two businesses are pretty well intertwined at this point. And I don't see it as a huge detrimental move for the company to lose Stephens at this point."
Target, Walmart, Sears and other retailers have launched their own service and installation services. They will present an increasing challenge to the Geek Squad, Hottovy said.
Stephens is also a member of Minnesota Public Radio's board of trustees. He said he hopes to remain on the board.
- All Things Considered, 03/07/2012, 5:21 p.m.