Living and Giving

Poolside with Pamela: Interview with Tony Hsieh of Zappos

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Pamela Hawley is the founder and CEO of UniversalGiving. In her continuing series on “Poolside with Pamela,” she interviewed thought leader, Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos and author of Delivering Happiness. Below is her interview, exploring values of leadership.

PH: What does leadership mean to you? What are your greatest challenges as a leader? How do you think your employees would describe you?

TH: Leadership is about inspiring others to accomplish something that they otherwise would not have done on their own. For me personally, I don\’t think of myself as a leader so much as someone who is trying to help create an environment that enables leaders to flourish, including people that may not have previously thought of themselves as leaders. My hope is that employees would describe me as representative of our 10 core values at Zappos.

PH: Tell me about the values that are important to you and how they translate into Zappos.

TH: We have 10 core values at Zappos:

1) Deliver WOW Through Service
2) Embrace and Drive Change
3) Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
4) Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
5) Pursue Growth and Learning
6) Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
7) Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
8) Do More With Less
9) Be Passionate and Determined
10) Be Humble

Each and every one of them is important to me, but #2, #4, #5, and #10 remind me of this quote from Charles Darwin that I think also applies to business:

\”It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.\” -Charles Darwin

PH: In Delivering Happiness, you talk about supporting employees’ growth and focusing on company culture.  What does company culture look like at Zappos?

TH: Our 10 core values are essentially a formalized definition of our culture.   Our employees also speak out a lot on our twitter feed, and we’re happy they feel comfortable talking.  But the best way to get a glimpse into our culture is to take a tour of our headquarters in Las Vegas.
PH: How have you found the balance between serving the community and making a company profitable?  Please relate a challenge where you had to take the forprofit side and serve the business. Please relate a challenge where you decided to take the nonprofit side and serve the community.

TH: We try to find the intersection of both, which usually isn\’t as difficult as it may seem if you\’re thinking longer term, because serving the community is ultimately good for business.

PH: What are the areas you love the most? In what ways would you like to see Zappos grow?  In what way would you like to see yourself personally grow?

Our hope for 5 years from now is to have the vast majority of our hires be entry-level employees. Our vision is to provide all the training and mentorship so that every entry-level employee has the ability to become a senior leader within the company over a 5-7 year period. This will protect our culture as well as give everyone a growth path within the company.

For me personally, I\’ve found that as long as I\’m always tackling new challenges, I\’ll continue to grow personally. It doesn\’t actually matter to me as much what those challenges are, just that they are new and can have a meaningful positive impact on the company.

PH: What does the concept of shoe mean to you?  Please describe the perfect shoe, and shoe experience for you.

TH: I\’ve never really been a shoe person (and I\’m still not). My passion is in customer service/experience and company culture.


About Tony: In 1999, at the age of 24, Tony Hsieh sold LinkExchange, the company he co-founded, to Microsoft. He then joined as an advisor and investor, and eventually became CEO, where he helped grow from almost no sales to over $1 billion in gross merchandise sales annually, while simultaneously making Fortune magazine’s annual “Best Companies to Work For” list. Tony’s first book, Delivering Happiness, was published on June 7, 2010, and outlines his path from starting a worm farm to life at Tony shows how a very different kind of corporate culture is a powerful model for achieving success and happiness. Delivering Happiness debuted at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list and remained on the list for 27 consecutive weeks.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and sort of has a cat.

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