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Bradbury Anderson, BA sociology '71, worked his way from sales clerk to CEO of Best Buy. Photo courtesy of Best Buy

When Bradbury Anderson, BA sociology ’71, took a sales job at the Sound of Music stereo store in 1973, he earned about $69 in the first two weeks. So, he did the only logical thing. He quit.

Lucky for him, his resignation didn’t take.

“I was in the smallest store in a small company, and they couldn’t replace me very easily,” says Anderson, who agreed to stay on until a replacement was found.

Within several weeks, he had somehow uncovered the secret of selling and was promoted to assistant manager a month later. He’s still with the company — now known as Best Buy — where today he leads more than 120,000 employees as the company’s vice chairman and CEO.

Overcoming low expectations has been a constant theme in Anderson’s life.

A pastor’s son from Minneapolis, Anderson was an introverted child and such a lousy student that his high school guidance counselor prepared him for failure.

“He was very colorful,” recalls Anderson, who now has homes in New York and Minneapolis. “He said, ‘Brad, some of us were cut out for college, and then there are others, and you’re one of the others.’ Well,” he says, laughing at the memory, “he was right. All the evidence I’d given him proved the point.”

But Anderson turned it around. After two years in junior college, he became a B+ student at the University of Denver, developing an intellectual curiosity in the process. “I had a history course where the professor had us read about the Civil War and approached history as a mystery to be solved,” says Anderson, who became an avid reader of biography and history. “It came alive for me in that context.

“One of the things I got from the University,” he adds, “was the chance to engage with a diverse group of thinkers on the faculty and also diverse backgrounds on the part of my peers. It opened up things I’m still deeply curious about today.”

Anderson’s ascent has been steady ever since. And just as he challenged authority protesting the Vietnam War at DU, Anderson challenged 1970s business conventions and experimented with an approach that was, at the time, unusual for the stereo business.


“It was common in the industry to advertise a product and then sell people something more profitable, sometimes even disparaging the line you advertised,” Anderson recalls. “So, we tried reversing the whole psychology, selling a basket of other products with that product, and telling the customer the truth — that the product was good. That very quickly built sales.”

Anderson now credits the lessons he learned early on with giving him the tools he needed to succeed.

“One of the things I’m very passionate about as a leader is that many people have a lot more to contribute than is recognized,” Anderson says. “Having been written off, in a sense, turned out to be helpful.”

Anderson says that if he has one lesson to impart to those who are struggling to find direction, it is to pursue what you love.

“There’s that thing that you’re wired to do,” he says. “I’m 56, and I’m passionately, intensely interested in what I do every day because I’m doing something I’m still curious about.

“It’s still fresh to me, the challenges are still new, and it makes life so much more interesting than taking a second choice.”

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