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2011 Hall of Fame: Dennis May, CEO, hhgregg

A Driver of Evolution

January 2011 By Jeff O'Heir
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For most companies, searching for the right CEO is one of the toughest challenges they face. The task gets even tougher for public companies with an extremely aggressive growth strategy. But for Jerry Throgmartin and the board at hhgregg, the choice of Dennis May was a no-brainer.

"Over the 10 years he was here he embraced and perpetuated our culture. He knew the business inside and out. He was ready," said Throgmartin, hhgregg's former CEO and current executive chairman of the board, adding that May is the first person outside of his family to hold the title. "The decision was easy."

May, 42, came to hhgregg in 1999 when the company acquired Sun TV & Appliance. He had spent almost all of his career at Sun, steadily rising through ranks to vice president of marketing, executive vice president and COO. At the time of the acquisition, Sun TV was the bigger of the two companies.

"I was brought to [hhgregg] to help grow it," he said, adding that hhgregg was a slow-growth company at the time, opening about one store in its home state of Indiana every five years. "Our expectations were that we could grow the company and expand. That [successful growth] has exceeded our expectations. The business model has been proven successful even in down times…and one that has translated well in different states."

Since May became CEO in 2009, the company has maintained year-over-year growth of about 20%. During its fiscal 2011, the company has already opened 42 stores, with one more on the way to reach its goal of 43 new stores, putting it at a projected 33% growth for the period. That brings total store count to 173 in 15 states. A rocky second quarter in which net income fell 20% to $3.9 million and revenue rose 45% to $480.9 million, missing Wall Street's projection of $493.9 million, has done nothing to impede the company's growth strategy. The overall goal is to bring the number of stores to 600 across the country.

"That's a milestone we look forward to hitting," May said. "We try to keep it humble. We believe if we become full of ourselves and start thinking of ourselves as a magical, mystical company, than it's not going to work."

There's nothing too mystical about May's business strategies and the company's key to success. It's based on what May began learning at 16, when he started his retail career, announcing the Blue Light specials at the Kmart near his hometown of Bidwell, Ohio, and throughout his career at Sun TV & Appliance, where he worked at just about every position, including merchandising, marketing, sales, buying and executive management.

 

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