If Best Buy were a Rorschach test, Kal Patel would see a venture-capital firm rather than a big-box electronics store. Before being named to run the Minneapolis-based retailer’s Asia operations, Patel spent seven years getting the company to behave like a Silicon Valley incubator. “Our culture has a lot of flexibility,” says Patel, 46, who once worked on Sand Hill Road. “Employees can go to different parts of the organization with their ideas.” That means experimental ventures, such as electric vehicles or a reinvented retail model for Chinese consumers, at one time both under Patel, can be tested before the company bets on an investment. And ideas that trickle up through the ranks–like the Geek Squad’s Twelpforce (customer service à la Twitter)–can become new ways for Best Buy to do business.
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