That’s just the beginning. There’s also
the difficulty of working for a brick-and-mortar outlet in the midst of the digital age.
“Showrooming,” for example, is a curse
word in Best Buy hallways—it’s the practice
of consumers browsing for products at a
Best Buy (or other store) and then ordering
the products online elsewhere.
“You read a lot about this over the past
couple of years, but we have taken our
own actions to combat this, including
implementing our own low-price
guarantee,” Nelsen says. “This allows our
associates to match our competitor’s prices
on the floor and make any sale. This, along
with the fact that we have always been
competitively priced, has literally run the
word ‘showrooming’ from our vernacular.”
Then there was the leadership crisis
Best Buy faced in 2012 when CEO Brian
Dunn abruptly resigned amid rumors of an
inappropriate work relationship. The company
was rudderless and there were panicked looks
on the faces of Nelsen’s colleagues. Nelsen
had never seen anything like it.
“You don’t necessarily prepare for a
CEO going out in the midst of allegations
surrounding his behavior, followed by the
founder and chairman of the board [Richard
Schulze] leaving and attempting to launch
a potential take-private acquisition of the
company,” Nelsen says from his office, a
Police concert poster hanging on the wall.
“We had an interim CEO at a time when
everyone is questioning your business
model and whether it’s viable even in the
short term, never mind the long term. To
have all those things facing you at one time
must be unprecedented.”
LAWYERING WASN’ T THE DREAM FOR
Nelsen. Getting a football into the end
Not that you can blame him—Nelsen’s
childhood home is just over a mile from
Lambeau Field. He has season tickets to
“I grew up not dreaming about being a
lawyer, but of being the next Bart Starr,” he
says with a laugh.
He was a solid high school student,
finishing in the top dozen or so of his class of
around 300, but football was his thing. He
made his college decision on pigskin criteria.
“Northern Michigan University offered
me a football scholarship … that was about
it,” he says.
Nelsen made the most of it, becoming
team captain in 1985 and setting records for
most touchdowns passes in a game (six) and
yards passing in a season ( 2,636). In 2005, he
was named to the school’s sports hall of fame.
Not that he mentions any of this. Instead he
says, “We were a perennial playoff team.”
In between doing his Starr turn on the
field, he found his stride in the classroom.
He enjoyed business courses and earned
his degree in finance and accounting.
But law school entered his thoughts. “I’ve
always been competitive, and I thought
being a lawyer would be a way to continue
competing in a professional sense,” he says.
He chose the University of Wisconsin
for law school. “I liked the intensity of it,”
he says. “You didn’t want to embarrass
yourself, and you wanted to be prepared.
So I prepared.”
Nelsen excelled in the tax and corporate
law offering. Apparently drawn to “Best”
companies, after graduation, the future
Best Buy GC went to work in the business
law section at Best & Flanagan in 1989,
doing mainly tax and transactional work.
“After a year or so I realized that I had
the most in common with the firm’s trial
lawyers and began taking on work in that
“You don’t necessarily prepare for a CEO going out in the
midst of allegations surrounding his behavior, followed
by the founder and chairman of the board leaving and
attempting to launch a potential take-private acquisition
of the company. … To have all those things facing you at
one time must be unprecedented,” Nelsen says.
department, ultimately making the shift
in my second year of practice,” he says.
“There was a whole realm of cases we
tried. Our firm had contracts with some
of the local municipalities, and a few days
a month, we would do their prosecution
work. You’d show up in court and have 40
or 50 files and a courtroom full of people.
By the end of the day the courtroom had to
be empty, and you usually tried a case or
two. I was also able to take on a significant
commercial workload at the same time and
work with some excellent trial lawyers.”
He soaked up the experience for nearly
seven years, but then those old business
“I got to the point where, I thought,
‘Well, with each case the people are
going to change, the facts are going to
change, the judge is going to change, but
the process is going to be the same, and
getting a case from complaint to trial can
be very tedious.’ Plus most of the bigger
cases settle, so you do all this preparation
work and rarely get to try the case. You also
generally learn enough about a business
to handle a particular matter, but don’t get
a chance to learn what drives it from end
to end. I found that to be frustrating.” He
adopts a football metaphor. “There was a
lot of practice and very few games.”
In the midst of this restless period he
got a call from David Berg, one of his
clients who was the general counsel
at a well-known local fitness company
called Nordic Track. Berg told him the
manufacturer of indoor skiing machines
was enjoying such spectacular growth,
thanks largely to the company’s
infomercials, that it could use another legal
counsel. Nelsen came aboard in 1995.
“I liked the transition. I was going into
an industry that I had a huge interest in