The Monthly Book Report
brought to you by Murphy Business
Last month, the honey pot in this here space was stirred with commentary about Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg’s controversial book about women in the workplace. And this month, we stay in tech mogul land by discussing Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, CEO of the billion-dollar grossing Zappos.com. The author has made such a substantial impact in growing the relatively young online shoe-and-so-much-more store that perhaps we no longer have to clarify the pronunciation of his last name. (And perhaps we do; it’s “shay.”) Unlike Sandberg, whose picture is prominently displayed on her cover, you’ll be hard-pressed to find Hsieh’s mug anywhere in the paperback… because it’s nowhere to be found. That’s not the only oddity, either; he used neither a ghostwriter nor co-author and, incredibly, may be more self-effacing than Sandberg, which is saying something. The reader can expect breezy storytelling and internal memo insights from a company head who knows all about “wow” service and building a rabidly customer-centric team of service professionals. If you’ve ever ordered shoes or a belt or a sun hat (yup, that’s correct) from Zappos, you likely already know this.
If you’re about doing something you love believing the money will follow, this book is for you. The author, aside from being an outstanding writer, is a true entrepreneur and clearly loves building businesses. You don’t need to recall a company called LinkExchange – or understand what the hell it did – to fully appreciate the tremendous tale of how Hsieh and his team built and then sold it to Microsoft in the late ’90’s. His take in the deal was $40 million, so long as he lasted a year on the mother ship, lest he forfeit 20% of the total. (Quick math, hot shot: that’s $8M.) He lasted a couple of months, not willing to do what Silicon Valley entrepreneurs cynically call “vest in peace,” i.e. skate by and “do the bare amount of work so (one) wouldn’t get fired.” Unwilling to stomach faking his way through each day, Hsieh forfeited the money and started pouring the balance into cool start-ups, one of which was Zappos. The stories of unshakeable faith, major strategic shifts regarding inventory, and risky financing are eye-opening, triggers only to be pulled by those on a mission and willing to gamble everything. Even if he’s exaggerating by double, the reader can still be impressed by the guts it took to make the decisions and commitments the executive team made. (And there’s no reason to believe there’s any male bravado smoke being blown here.)
There are at least a half-dozen meaningful takeaways in Delivering Happiness, including: six ways business is like poker; a terrific blog article on proper networking etiquette built on selfless, genuine interest in others; a brilliant incentive plan devised by Hsieh’s partner to get employees to read more; and a section in the chapter entitled “Platform for Growth” about how to build a brand through customer service via telephone (go figure). And, by design, it’s all a little weird, too which is how the author views himself. That’s all well and good, and those who sell product to Zappos surely appreciate the wacky annual Vendor Appreciation Party, but one wonders what Hsieh is thinking when arranging goats in tutus and “little people” as event entertainment. (It appears that sensitivity and political correctness are not prominent features of the Zappos’ culture.) If you can look beyond the goofiness you’ll find gems, and if you seek so-simple-it’s-brilliant ideas on building an energized culture, look no further. This book is perfect for leaders of others who want badly to build team unity and shared purpose. If you skip the fire-eaters at your company party, you’ll have enough money to buy everyone a copy.
Originally posted by Chris Bond on December 10, 2014 at 1:00pm