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Best Buy shakes up its venture-capital liaison group

The longtime head of the group within Best Buy Co. that served as liaison to the venture capital community is out, replaced by two senior VPs. Martin Nyman told me his position was eliminated June 30. He had been with the company for about seven years, with a recent title of director-global innovation network. At one time, Nyman had a staff of four, but that group was cut in April 2006 as part of a headquarters staff reduction.

A source inside the company described the recent moves as “the usual restructuring.” I was told that all VC-related activities are now under Rick Rommel, SVP-emerging business. Rommel reports to Kal Patel, whose title is EVP-emerging business. Also within Patel’s organization, I learned, is a second SVP-emerging business, Neil McPhail. My source tells me McPhail’s responsibilities are “less direct VC-related, although there is some overlap.” His main responsibilities relate to the stores and to the company’s “growth accelerator” initiative.

Yet another group within Best Buy is one that deals directly with the company’s own VC funding investments. That function has been headed for some time by Kuk Yi (first name pronounced “cook”) and is a part of the Finance function, specifically the treasurer’s office. Yi also has a “dotted line” reporting relationship to Patel, I was told.

Late in March 2008, a story broke via the blogosphere that Best Buy was forming a new VC fund of its own — actually two funds — which I later learned was an initiative headed by Kuk Yi, and it was seeking to hire Principals and Associates for those VC funds (as many as four positions). Here’s a blog post I did about the blog buzz and speculation going on at that time. The local Business Journal weekly broke the story in the Twin Cities media on March 28, picking up on the earliest blog reports.

No action since March?
The most surprising thing I learned from my sources recently is that no one has yet been hired for any of these positions. So, the question remains: Just what is Best Buy doing in regard to formalizing its own venture investing function? And what changes, if any, can be expected in the liaison activity with the VC community at large, based on Nyman’s departure?

One thing is certain: Martin Nyman leaves Best Buy with a wealth of relationships with scores of VCs, including many of the most successful ones in Silicon Valley, where he spent much of his time. While assessing his next move, Nyman is doing business development consulting with a Twin Cities-based technology startup that had previously raised $5 million in venture capital and, he says, is on the verge of achieving significant adoption of its technology.

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