John Walden, Class of 1986
CEO of the UK’s leading digital retailer
John Walden has built a career out of bringing retail companies into the digital age. He began his retail career in the 1990s as Chief Operating Officer of Peapod, a pioneer in online supermarket retailing. He later joined Best Buy, in 1999 as President of its internet and direct channels division. He went on to serve as Executive Vice President, Human Capital and Leadership at Best Buy and, ultimately as Executive Vice President of its Customer Business Group. Walden later moved to Sears where, as Chief Customer Officer and Executive Vice President, he led marketing, merchandising and the internet, catalogue and home services divisions. More recently, Walden served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Inversion, Inc., a retail consultancy, and as Chief Executive of Activeion Cleaning Solutions. In February 2012, he became Managing Director of Argos, the United Kingdom’s leading digital retailer with more than $6 billion in annual sales and more than 31,000 employees.
What were you like as a law student?
I was probably more serious than I should have been. During my first year I was very serious, because I had just finished college and most of the night students were older. Everyone in night school is more serious because of the tremendous amount of work and there isn’t the outside class time to spend with other students. I had a pretty strong conviction of being serious about life and work, and so that reflected in my actions.
Who was your favorite professor?
Probably Linda Hirshman. She was brilliant and hysterical, and also cynical. I really enjoyed her.
What has been your greatest professional achievement?
My tenure at Best Buy was one long chapter of success. During my time there, the company was named Forbes’ company of the decade. We’d had a string of five years of growth that was really substantial. We became a company that was really admired by its employees. We became a company where the store colleagues were an important part of the formula. It was a lot more fair to the employee base overall. Being a part of that team and its sustained success was great.
What’s been your greatest challenge?
I’ve faced the same challenge in multiple ways. It’s a business challenge, which was how to get really big companies to avoid the trap of becoming bureaucratic and centralized. To help them unlock contributions from employees across the business. It’s been an ongoing challenge. It’s a challenge of how to make big companies more entrepreneurial.
How did Chicago-Kent prepare you for your present success?
It was by far my most impactful educational experience. Just having a foundation of being a rigorous and analytical thinker. Being able to express ideas clearly, in writing or otherwise, is a really valuable tool. They’re applicable anyplace. I insist on a level of intellectual rigor that has its roots in my education from Chicago-Kent.
What would people find most surprising about you?
I was an ROTC cadet, that’s how I went through college. I served in the Army Reserves while I was in law school. I used to leave in the middle of the school year, for 2 or 3 weeks at a time, to do my duty as a Reservist while in law school. I also do a lot of yoga. I have 5 children, who are all boys.