New CIOs at Best Buy, Borders Likely To Mean Few Changes

Two of the most powerful retail chains—at least the most powerful beginning with "B"—each introduced new CIOs Tuesday (May 26), with Borders naming Scott Laverty (a veteran consultative executive, hailing from IBM, Deloitte Consulting, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young) and Best Buy crowning Neville Roberts, a promotion from within.

Although it's always difficult to accurately project what new IT leaders will do with their new gigs, there are indications that neither exec is likely to create major ripples, at least not in the nearterm.

At Best Buy, the 41-year-old Roberts technically replaces Bob Willett, who has held the CIO title for years and has been a senior IT leader at Best Buy since April 2004. But Willett has been holding dual titles, serving as both the full chain's CIO and CEO of Best Buy International. Willett will continue as CEO of Best Buy International and, most critically, Roberts will continue to report directly to Willett. When a new executive is reporting into the executive being replaced, that's rarely followed by a radical shift in strategy. If Willett opposed an approach as CIO, he's unlikely to endorse it as the boss of the CIO.

Another sign that little radical change in IT strategy is likely at Best Buy any time soon: Roberts only joined Best Buy last year (he was hired in January 2008 as CIO of Best Buy International, reporting into Willett) and he's been working with Willett the entire time. If they had key differences in IT strategy, it's unlikely that he'd be given the nod as permanent CIO.

Before joining Best Buy, Roberts worked some 18 years at Accenture, "most recently as senior partner in their Global Retail Practice where he was responsible for clients such as Wal-Mart International (including ASDA), WHSmith, Argos and Tesco," according to a Best Buy statement.

The situation is quite different at Borders. The 1,000-store bookseller chain's naming of Laverty as its new CIO is likely to continue the chain's current CEO-lead strategy of focusing almost all efforts on boosting in-store sales.

But equally interesting is that Borders also announced a new director of E-Commerce Systems, namely Paul Devitt. The closest thing to a predecessor for Devitt was Kevin Ertell, who ran the chain's E-Commerce operations until leaving Feb. 3 during a reorganization. But Devitt's last thing was at Circuit City, where he toiled for three years as senior manager of E-Commerce Technologies. One could say that while Ertell left Borders, Devitt's last employer left the planet. Although it certainly weakens one's compensation negotiating position, there's one good thing about leaving a chain that shuts its doors in a very public way: no one can suspiciously ask why you left.

What's initially unknown is whether Devitt will be allowed to innovate or will simply be asked to initially serve as a caretaker.