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Need help answering this. Hsieh, the former Zappos.com chief
Tony Hsieh, the former Zappos.com chief executive officer who died on Friday from injuries suffered in a house fire, was an unusual — and unusually humane — corporate executive. In 2009, after he grudgingly agreed to a buyout from Amazon.com Inc., Hsieh could have walked away from the online shoe seller an incredibly wealthy man — something many CEOs would have done. Instead, he negotiated a deal that gave Zappos a high degree of autonomy and stuck with the company for 11 more years, finally departing in August after leading the company for more than two decades. In 2013, after setting up a call center in Las Vegas, Hsieh decided to move the entire company there. He did so initially because he wanted people answering customer calls to feel fully a part of Zappos. But he also saw it as an opportunity to help revitalize a city down on its luck. By the time he died, he had spent $350 million of his own money on the effort. Hsieh instituted something called “The Offer” — a means of compensating new employees who quickly concluded that Zappos was not the right place for them. After a week or so on the job, new employees were told that if they wanted to quit, they would be paid for the time they had put in, with an extra $1,000 thrown in for good measure. Thus, people who were unlikely to work out left with some money in their pocket and their heads held high. There are many other examples: Although Hsieh originally bought a luxury apartment in Las Vegas, he soon moved into a trailer park he helped establish, where he created a close-knit community. He encouraged people working in the call center to take as long as they needed to talk to customers — even when the discussion roamed far afield from shoes. He paid himself $36,000 a year and sat in a cubicle with the rest of the Zappos team. “His mission in life was to bring smiles and happiness to people everywhere he went,” a former venture partner, Cyan Banister, told Forbes. She added, “Tony was like the leader of a parade. One big happy parade.” Indeed, Hsieh considered happiness so important that he studied what it took to make people truly happy. He eventually wrote a book about it titled “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.” The thesis of the book is that if you work hard at making sure both customers and employees are happy, your company will be successful. In the obituaries and appreciations of Hsieh that I read over the weekend, much was made of the extraordinary attention that Zappos paid to making customers happy. Great customer service was at the heart of the business model Hsieh imposed at the company. It was also a reason Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos, was so eager to buy Zappos: He saw in Hsieh a leader as devoted to pleasing customers as he was. (Another reason was that by 2009, Zappos had built a billion-dollar business selling shoes online while Amazon's efforts in the category had largely fallen flat.) “I get all weak-kneed when I see a customer-obsessed company,” Bezos said at the time of the merger. It is also why Bezos decided to give Hsieh and Zappos such an unusual degree of autonomy. What were largely brushed over in those obituaries were Hsieh's efforts to create an employee culture of happiness; here, I think, things get a little more problematic. Hsieh's first company was an internet ad service called LinkExchange, which he eventually sold to Microsoft. As he would explain later, one of the things that bothered him was that as LinkExchange grew and needed to hire people who were not friends of the original team, its early culture was lost. It got to the point where he hated going to work at his own company. After the sale to Microsoft, he walked away as quickly as he could. At Zappos, Hsieh wanted everyone to be themselves, to enjoy one another and to have fun. Jennifer Reingold, writing in Fortune magazine, visited Zappos's Las Vegas headquarters in 2016 and described the scene like this: The company's “resident artist,” who started a … read more
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