Upton Sinclair once wrote that "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."
Parneros spoke exactly the way you would expect someone whose job depends on his unwavering belief in the future of B&N: he gave as strong of a defense of B&N's stores as he possibly could.
FORTUNE: What are Barnes & Noble's biggest challenges at this point?
Parneros: They're the same as for other retailers. It's dealing with lots of stores, the impact of the internet, rising costs, rents up, staffing costs... Nothing really goes down, everything goes up.
Margins are getting squeezed because of mobile, aging store fleets, stores that are too big.
Last year, Barnes & Noble again relaunched its e-commerce site. Is it helping you?
Our online grew modestly, 2.2%, so not nearly enough to offset the sales declines [in bookstores]. I think there is a shift, it just didn't come to us.
Barnes & Noble still operates 634 stores, compared to 720 seven years ago. Given the comparable sales declines, are there still too many Barnes & Noble stores?
No. There aren't. And I can say this having run a 2,000-store chain before. We are looking at whether they're the right size and [asking,] are we in right markets? The good news is that over next five years, 500 leases are up for renewal. That puts the hammer back in our hand. And we can decide what to do with those stores. [Parneros noted that only a small fraction of stores are unprofitable.]
My main takeaway from this interview is to wonder why Fortune bothered. Parneros would not by in his position if he thought B&N were doomed; he would have declined B&N's offer.
And more importantly, even if Parneros did think the odds are stacked against Barnes & Noble, it's not like he could say so. If Parneros had expressed an honest appreciation of B&N's chances then he would have caused investors, suppliers, and customers to lose faith in B&N.
Had he been negative he would have killed the company - a self-fulfilling prophecy, as it were.
He would also have been fired.
So yes, when someone's job depends on not understanding something, don't bother asking them about it.