CEO Takes a Walk on the Whimsical Side
Boston Herald- Wednesday, May 20, 2009
CEO takes a walk on whimsical side
By Darren Garnick
Based on his recent lethargic appearance on NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” shoe magnate Tony Hsieh is the most uncharismatic CEO in America. But he’s also a media darling, fueled by his carefully constructed image of a man who pumps happiness serum into the veins of his employees.
Hsieh (pronounced “shay”) runs Zappos.com, the online fashion megastore best known for women’s shoes and footwear for men who want to look like Mozart (click on “dress boots” for examples). ABC’s “Nightline” gleefully captured Pinewood Derby car races being run by the accounting department - in the middle of the work day.
A profile in this month’s Inc. magazine reveals that Zappos now requires managers to spend 10 to 20 percent of their time horsing around with employees. “It’s just kind of a random number we made up,” Hsieh tells the mag. “But part of the way you build company culture is hanging out outside of the office.”
The CEO also famously offers new trainees $2,000, plus wages earned, to quit their jobs following a one-month orientation session. It’s a psychological test meant to weed out “bad employees.”
In the business world, the difference between a genius and a nutcake is performance. Because Hsieh raked in $1 billion in sales last year, his every hiccup has value.
What else can explain his 621,000-plus followers on Twitter, a medium he claims “can make you a better and happier person.”
“Think of each tweet as a dot on a piece of paper. Any single tweet, just like any single dot, by itself can be insignificant and meaningless,” Hsieh writes on his personal blog. “But, if over time, you end up with a lot of tweets, it’s like having a lot of dots drawn on a piece of paper. Eventually there are enough dots for your followers to connect them . . . and it’s that total picture that is your brand.”
Here is some recent Twitter wisdom from corporate America’s latest happiness guru:
“Ignored bartender who kept yelling to ‘Freddy’ behind me. Turns out he was yelling at me, asking if I was ‘ready’ for a drink.”
“At MGM for Britney Spears concert! Wait, did I really just admit that to 500K Twitter followers? I meant I’m at home reading.”
“Dear breakfast burrito: Why are you so angry w/ me? Why spit on my shirt? Because I had an Egg McMuffin without you yesterday?”
Other companies pad their social networking numbers with special deals and discounts. But Zappos.com offers no coupon codes, maintaining that its free two-way shipping is enough of a financial incentive. Perhaps Hsieh’s hundreds of thousands of followers are genuinely charmed by his nonsensical humor.
One of the Zappos “core values” is to cultivate “A Little Weirdness.” Employees just created a “Looking for Freaks” rap song this month, pairing it with videos of their “Stupid Human Tricks.”
Our economy could use some more weirdos like Hsieh. One of the craziest things he has done is put his customer service center in Las Vegas instead of Mumbai. What kind of freak hires Americans to answer the phone?
Consider that the next time you’re looking for a gorgeous pair of sandals or Mozart shoes.