Learning from the Best - An Interview with Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh: CEO of Zappos - Author of "Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose" - General Manager of Venture Frogs, LLC.  LinkedIn Profile

We had the opportunity to connect with Tony to get his insights on entrepreneurship, company culture, and success.  Here is an abbreviated version of that conversation.

GYL: Many Millennials would love to learn how to become a leader in the ways you have, can you give us an inside look into your success path?  In other words, what ignited the dream and what were the pivotal points in your success path?

Tony: I think the key is to just keep doing a lot of things and over time you'll gain your 10,000 hours of experience - but you need the 10,000 hours to be doing different things in different situations so you're constantly learning.

Tony: Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

GYL: When you were managing the Quincy House Grill, what did you imagine for your future?

Tony: I didn't really think that far ahead...

GYL: Did you have a mentor guiding you on steps to take to get there?

Tony: No.

GYL: You met Alfred Lin in college...he was your "best customer" at Quincy... how did you know he was the right guy to partner with?

Tony: I didn't at the time. We got to know each other over the years (he worked at LinkExchange as well later on), and we didn't partner until 5 or 6 years after we met.

GYL: Do you think it's important to have a partner or team when starting a business?

Tony: Not necessarily when starting, but as the business grows, you definitely need a team you can depend on.

GYL: When you arrived at Oracle, what gave you the extra push, the courage, to choose entrepreneurship over Corporate America?

Tony: I'd been entrepreneurial most of my life so didn't really view it as something that required courage. It was probably boredom more than anything else that pushed me out of Corporate America.

GYL: What are 2 key lessons you learned from LinkExchange?

Tony: 1) Customer service is very important.  2) Company culture is very important.

GYL: How have you used those lessons to make Zappos such a success?

Tony: The Zappos brand is all about customer service and company culture.

GYL: What has made the biggest difference in your success with Zappos - the decision to focus on customer service or the focus on company culture?

Tony: Company culture.

GYL: Not all companies are following your lead and creating such an employee-friendly environment. Why do you think that is?

Tony: The payoff for investments in company culture are usually at least 2-3 years down the line. Many companies are just focused on the current quarter or the current year. Also, cultural investments are harder to quantify, and many people only feel comfortable focusing on things that can be easily measured.

GYL: What words would you use to convince them to follow suit?

Tony: Research from books such as "Good to Great" have shown that over the long run, companies with strong cultures perform better.

GYL: GYL is all about building up the next generation of young leaders, you've mentored Ava as a young entrepreneur - when she comes to you with a new idea what are some of the questions you ask her?

Tony: I don't really ask her questions so much as help feed the brainstorming process with more ideas that result in her generating her own additional ideas.

GYL: Through the research we've done at GYL, its becoming very clear that our generation values flexibility. Whether its in the workplace, in non-conventional business pursuits, in life -- flexibility is key.  However, most people also understand that internal structure and internal discipline is an important component of success, and it goes hand-in-hand with the ability to take your passion and turn it into something productive.  How do you think we can build up that internal structure and discipline without compromising the coveted flexibility of our pursuits?

Tony: If you're passionate about whatever you're doing, then you don't really need to worry about the discipline part of it because you'll naturally spend a lot of time focusing on building whatever you're building.

GYL: If you were to create a Leadership/Mentorship program for up and coming young leaders what components would be essential?

Tony: Having young people actually experience real-world businesses.

What were your key takeaways from this interview?

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