What a billion dollar CEO taught me

20.02.12 | Posted in Entrepreneurship

I spent last week hanging out with Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos and the author of New York Times bestseller Delivering Happiness. Business Chicks brought him to Australia for the first time ever and he spoke at two workshops for us in Sydney and Melbourne. tony-hsieh

I also spent some time with him on Sydney harbour and had the job of chaperoning him around throughout the week. Here’s a behind the scenes look at what I learned from him.

You’ve got to work very hard to achieve the level of success he has. At every available opportunity, Tony was on his computer or iPhone. In fact, there were only a few moments when he wasn’t connected to either. We’d get to a venue, have five minutes to get onstage, and he’d still boot up his computer, find a network and get some work done.

Happiness comes in all forms and levels. You’d expect a guy who wrote an international bestseller about happiness to be jumping out of his skin with joy. He wasn’t. He’s spent lots of time researching the science of happiness and debunks the myth that it’s all about those adrenalin-fuelled moments when you want to pump your fist in the air and hug strangers next to you. In his mind, happiness comes in three forms: those ‘rock star’ moments I just described; when you’re in flow and everything comes easily; and thirdly, when you’re working for a higher purpose other than yourself.

You don’t need charisma in spades to be a successful CEO. Tony admits he is incredibly introverted. When asked if all the fun stuff he does in his business (dressing up, endless parties/celebrations, parades around the office etc) is a reflection of his personality and personal ethos, he said nup. He likes to think of himself as the designer of a greenhouse where all the plants are the same size and they all move and grow together, rather than him being the biggest and tallest plant.

He approaches business like a science experiment. I’ve never met a more researched, well-read, educated (about business) individual than Tony Hsieh. He’s concerned himself with details such as the optimal space between employee’s desks to increase collaboration and innovation, and has even gone so far as to move the entrance to the Zappos office so that all employees have to walk through all departments, thus increasing the amount of ‘serendipitous collisions’ which ultimately lead to greater communication and teamwork.

If you’re looking to grow your business to reach revenues north of $1 billion, or if you fancy exiting one day to Amazon for over $1.2 billion, then maybe you’ll do well to adopt some of the above practises.

Read some of my team members’ take aways from the workshops here.


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  1. Abbie Allen

    Thanks Emma. I love hearing real life stories about the amazing people we usually only read about. You must have had a amazing week, observing Tony’s methods and techniques in living life and running a business.

  2. Louise

    Wow, great post Emma! Still kicking myself for missing this one but great to read your insights – I’m trawling online for his book now!

  3. Emma

    Thanks Louise and thanks so much for your great blog post re the Business Chicks event with Dannii Minogue last week – so glad to hear you loved it so much!