This week I wanted to talk about the CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh. Zappos is an online shoe and clothing shop located in Las Vegas, with shoes accounting for around 80% of their total business. Hsieh graduated from Harvard with a degree in computer science, and after going to work for Oracle for five months Hsieh left and co-founded LinkExchange with his college friend Sanjay Madan. Hsieh has been involved with numerous companies and enterprises, but is best known for his role as CEO of Zappos. Hsieh was approached to invest in Zappos in 1999, and stayed on as its CEO through its buyout by Amazon in 2009 in a deal valued at $1.2 billion.
Hsieh is perhaps known mostly for his alternative lifestyle, not many billionaires live in a 240-square-foot trailer that costs around $1,000 per month in downtown Las Vegas. He prefers to live within this community as he finds it more enjoyable to the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and enjoys finding time to wind down in this quiet community in which he lives. This lifestyle seems to blend into his corporate attitude as well. Hsieh is also known for his honesty and openness with his employees, often sending them personalized messages to let them know that yes, management is really listening to you. While Hsieh holds his company and staff to a high standard, he also encourages fun in the workplace. Zappos is known for the events that it puts on for its staff, both during and after the workday.
Earlier in the semester some of us talked about how admitting a mistake early on can be very influential in how a company handles a potential crisis. When Zappos suffered a huge loss due to a pricing mistake Tony stepped in and helped claim responsibility for what happened. He chose to allow customers to honor the discount that they received, rather than trying to recoup his losses. To me I think Tony Hsieh embodies some of the perfect qualities that a leader should have. Honesty and openness are very important qualities to have in a customer centered business, as well as the ability to admit when you’re wrong. A successful company needs to be able to admit its mistakes and maintain customer loyalty, and that’s exactly what Zappos did with Hsieh at the helm. I personally chose to focus on Tony because I have always admired Zappos’ focus on the customer. I remember reading a case study in school that discussed how great Zappos’ customer service was. The case discussed how a woman called Zappos to return a pair of boots for her husband who had just passed away in a car accident and how the next day she got a flower delivery from Zappos offering their condolences. While this seems like such a small example, I think it really shows how customer centered Zappos is, and I wanted to learn more about its CEO to see how he demonstrated these values in the company.