How will Tony Hsieh’s legacy live on at Zappos?

Discussion
Photo: Zappos
Nov 30, 2020
George Anderson

The word innovation is often thrown around when it comes to retail businesses and the executives that lead them, although very few leaders, in fact, really qualify for the moniker. The same can not be said to be the case with Tony Hsieh, the founder and former CEO of Zappos, who created a company totally focused on “delivering happiness” for its customers and employees alike. Mr. Hsieh died last Friday from injuries he suffered on Nov. 18 during a house fire at a family home in New London, CT.

Under Mr. Hsieh, Zappos defined 10 core principles for its business:

  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

“Tony played such an integral part in helping create the thriving Zappos business we have today, along with his passion for helping to support and drive our company culture,” wrote Kedar Deshpande, CEO of Zappos, in a company statement.

Mr. Deshpande wrote about Mr. Hsieh’s “kindness and generosity” in leading Zappos and pledged, “we will continue to honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the work he was so passionate about.”

Among the innovations created under Mr. Hsieh was Zappos policy of offering employees the option after the first week on the job to get paid to quit. Zappos has long placed a premium on its culture and knew that not everyone is cut out to thrive there.

Although Mr. Hsieh stepped down as CEO last summer, his former company has continued to emphasize the kindness preached by its founder. This includes special steps Zappos has taken to connect with its customers during the pandemic with a variety of programs including “customer service for anything.” Launched in April, Zappos offers customers help with information on merchants in their areas and recommendations on helpful apps to use during a lockdown.

The online retailer also encouraged customers to call just to talk if they wanted to hear “a kind voice.” The topics — the weather, what’s on television, etc. — didn’t matter. Zappos wanted its customers to know it would “love to connect” with them.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think retail leaders today are more willing to practice their personal values than those in the past? What do you see as the most significant contributions that Tony Hsieh made to Zappos and the wider world of retail business management?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"By trusting and empowering his team, Hsieh made risk less risky. He unleashed their imaginative ideas and delighted consumers. Ultimately numbers matter but people matter more"
"Bottom line, Tony Hsieh showed retailers that they can have heart as a business and openly show it through their actions to their customers and still be successful."
"I admired Hsieh for his management philosophy. The very, very flat organization. Driving decision making down to the lowest level."

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11 Comments on "How will Tony Hsieh’s legacy live on at Zappos?"


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Ben Ball
BrainTrust

No. But they are much more willing to put them on display for the public.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Yes, like mission statements. Every company has one, but they go no further than the signs on the wall and the bold print in the annual reports.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Tony Hsieh’s legacy is how he proved altruism and capitalism aren’t mutually-exclusive. His optimism, humility and empathy wowed Zappos employees and customers and earned their loyalty. By trusting and empowering his team, Hsieh made risk less risky. He unleashed their imaginative ideas and delighted consumers. Ultimately, numbers matter but people matter more.

Among other retail leaders, we see many purpose-driven approaches like:

  • Walmart CEO Doug McMillon’s commitment to diverse employees and suppliers;
  • Target CEO Brian Cornell’s deep respect for, and investment in, his employees;
  • Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey’s positive, open leadership style, which earns trust.

All these leaders get it: It’s profitable to value your people.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Wow — what a great way to put it! Gotta give credit to the person in the corner office, but also gotta empower the people on the front lines.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Zappos had personality. It was obvious when you did business with them. Tony Hsieh infused his personal beliefs into the culture. It worked. And it worked so well he caught the eye of Amazon. Once Amazon purchased Zappos, they did something special. They let Tony keep running Zappos pretty much the way he’d always run it. Pre-Amazon and post-Amazon purchase had minimal differences.

Tony showed how to make the culture work. He embraced weirdness (number three in his core values). How many companies embrace weirdness?

As an online retailer, Tony and Zappos showed the world how to deliver world-class service. So many articles and books include references to Zappos.

I had the opportunity to meet Tony several times. He endorsed two of my books. He was truly a gentleman and wanted everyone around him to succeed. I was shocked and saddened by the news. He was an icon in our industry. My condolences to his family, close friends and his family at Zappos.

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

The challenges faced by retail leaders today are never ending and can be overwhelming. That is why it would behoove retail leaders to practice many of the guiding principles Tony put in place at Zappos, and tailor them to their own organizations.

It is challenging to keep up with the huge changes our industry is currently undergoing. To be able to meet the internal focused ones on top of the huge external ones, especially now during COVID-19, is a tall order that is more effectively executed with an attitude and outlook like the one that Tony had. RIP Tony Hsieh.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Bottom line, Tony Hsieh showed retailers that they can have heart as a business and openly show it through their actions to their customers and still be successful. Too many business leaders don’t want to believe that can be done, but he proved it’s possible and that customers will reward you with more business as a result. Will other retail executives follow this path? We can only hope!

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I admired Hsieh for his management philosophy. The very, very flat organization. Driving decision making down to the lowest level. Letting associates solve problems on the spot.

He had a great hiring practice as well. After a trial period of one month, the employee was given a choice to stay or leave and take $2,000 with them. A review came up in six months with the option to walk out with $5,000. The idea was that they only wanted people who really enjoyed working in this type of environment.

His philosophy was often laughed at in traditional circles. Amazon thought there was enough value in it to keep it within Zappos and even adapt some of it to Amazon.

Can this be adapted to other corporations? I doubt it. There is too much hubris in corporate America.

James Tenser
BrainTrust
The late Tony Hsieh was a rare individual who showcased his personal belief system front and center in his business. While there is much be admired about his choices, it’s worth remembering that he was already a wealthy man before he founded Zappos, as a result of his key role at LinkExchange, which was sold to Microsoft for a quarter billion at the height of the dot-com boom. Altruism can be expensive, but as he demonstrated, it can also tell a great story when it is embodied in a talented leader willing to pursue customer value ahead of shareholder value. The Hsieh legacy now depends mainly upon Amazon’s determination to preserve the Zappos culture. I think it will try to do that – at least for a while. Both companies understand that online shopping, fulfillment, fitting, and returning experiences need to vary for certain categories. From the outset, Jeff Bezos perceived why books could be simple to buy online. Tony Hsieh perceived why shoes had to be different and he built a business culture to… Read more »
Joe Skorupa
BrainTrust

I met Tony several times when he came to conferences where I was acting as host and moderator. Zappos was small at the time but clearly a brilliant concept headed for success. Tony came to learn from peers in those days and brought a few people with him from his company. He was quiet and hung around in the back of the meeting rooms listening, learning, blending in with other retailers. He was clearly a people person and his humanity subsequently came through in every aspect of his management style and business philosophy, which is rare.

I was shocked to learn of his death. I think his example, while impossible to replicate, will have a growing impact on how businesses can break down the barrier separates financial goals from their impact on humanity as a whole.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Rarely do you ever see a corporate culture that truly comes to fruition. What Tony Hsieh achieved at Zappos was to drive a genuine corporate culture that was not built around driving innovation. Rather it is built on the service model, where the associates are at the forefront of any corporate success.

Corporate mission statements, logos, and brand purposes are essential and will drive interest in your brand. However, under Hsieh’s leadership, Zappos embodied what a modern-day, relationship and community-first company could be. While Steve Jobs may have inspired success through relentless innovation at Apple, Hsieh’s leadership style at Zappos was simply different, unique, and what the world needs to drive real and impactful change.

RIP Tony Hsieh, you will be missed.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"By trusting and empowering his team, Hsieh made risk less risky. He unleashed their imaginative ideas and delighted consumers. Ultimately numbers matter but people matter more"
"Bottom line, Tony Hsieh showed retailers that they can have heart as a business and openly show it through their actions to their customers and still be successful."
"I admired Hsieh for his management philosophy. The very, very flat organization. Driving decision making down to the lowest level."

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