A Tribute to Tony Hsieh

In a year filled with so much loss due to COVID-19, we shockingly lost a visionary business leader with the tragic passing of Tony Hsieh in a home fire a few days ago.

I had the pleasure of meeting Tony personally many years ago in a chance encounter in the offices of Sequoia Capital in Menlo Park. I remember him being so kind and humble — and so willing to engage. Reading other people’s touching stories of Tony, it’s clear this is how he led in everything he did. With purpose and with empathy.

Tony’s legacy is marked by major accomplishments: He built Zappos into a $1 billion internet shoes and clothing powerhouse before selling the company to Amazon in 2009; he’s credited with revitalizing downtown Las Vegas; he wrote a best-selling book, “Delivering Happiness,” describing his customer service philosophy. And he did all of this by the age of 46.

As a CEO, what I’m most intrigued by was Tony’s innate ability to deliver exceptional customer and employee experiences. When I first joined Genesys, I asked everyone I would meet a simple question, “What company really stands out for incredible customers service?” Almost every time, people gave the same answer, “Zappos!”

Many wildly successful companies are obsessed with customers and many others are recognized by employees as great places to work. To achieve both while building an innovative, fast-growing, profitable company over time is rare and exceptional. It’s what all business leaders should strive for and, increasingly, what customers and employees expect.

The New York Times described Tony as a leader who really understood what his customers wanted. “In the nascent period of internet commerce, Mr. Hsieh was a visionary who realized that getting customers to feel comfortable and secure buying online was the key to success and growth. To do that, employees in the call center had to engage customers as if speaking to an old friend, with authentic-sounding welcoming banter. He also realized that buyers needed to try on shoes, so Zappos offered free overnight shipping and free return shipping, often sending customers multiple pairs at a time.”

Tony used the same approach with employees, treating them as customers. He built a culture around the four tenets for employee satisfaction: perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness (meaning the depths of relationships) and being part of something bigger than yourself. Essentially, he created a culture of happiness, positing that happy employees are the link to customer loyalty.

What Tony calls happiness is what we refer to as empathy at Genesys — and it’s part of our Experience as a ServiceSM vision. Empathy is a powerful construct for better business and a better world. Empathy is understanding the context of a person’s situation and treating him or her in light of that unique situation. After an empathetic interaction, no matter what the message, the recipient feels understood and treated with dignity and respect.

These aspirational ideas of happiness and empathy aren’t easy to bring to life in the real-world business realities of competition and profitability. But they’re more necessary than ever as the world grapples with existential crises, such as COVID-19 and global warming. So, let’s be inspired by the life of Tony Hsieh: Happiness (or empathy) and business success can co-exist and flourish. It’s on us to learn from the late, great Tony Hsieh’s philosophies and carry forward his legacy. Rest in peace, Tony.

Photo Credit: Christina Hilliard Photography