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Zappos Culture is Their Brand

By Gayle Watson

Zappos is a great example of “Off the Wall Leadership.”  There has been a lot of buzz recently about Zappos.  In March 2009 Fast Company named Zappos number 20 in its top 50 most innovative companies.  Not only is Zappos innovative, but it has an impressive performance track record.  In less than ten years CEO Tony Hsieh has grown Zappos into a billion-dollar-a-year retailer.  Zappos’ success has created such a popular demand, that it offers tours of its headquarters every two hours.  So what is the secret to their successful brand?

Hsieh says that Zappos made an early decision to base its brand on its culture.  In a blog post January 3, 2009, Your Culture is Your Brand, he wrote:  “At the end of the day, just remember that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff — including building a great brand — will fall into place on its own.”

Of course, building and maintaining the culture you want may be easier said than done.  If it were easy, more companies would be doing it successfully.  It takes a focus on core values, leadership, and a commitment to institutionalizing the desired behaviors.  In his blog, Hsieh describes some of the specific things that Zappos has done to ensure its culture is sustained over the long-term.  He says it starts with the hiring process – hiring people who fit the culture.  After hiring, the next step to building the culture is training.  All new employees receive four weeks training.  Employees who do not fit the culture are encouraged to quit.   Any employee who quits before the end of their first four weeks receives $2,000 in addition to their earned wages.

And here is the important part.  Zappos defined its culture in terms of ten core values.  Hsieh says the commitment to values is more than a plaque on the wall – you have to be “willing to hire and fire” based on the values.  Congratulations, Tony Hsieh, for living your corporate values and exemplifying “Off the Wall Leadership!”


Zappos presentation on corporate culture:  Delivering Happiness, by Tony Hsieh, CEO

The Zappos CEO-COO Blog, January 3, 2009:  Your Culture is Your Brand

Fast Company, March, 2009, Special Issue:  The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.

Inc. Magazine, May, 2009:  Why Every-body Loves Zappos.

  • Comment (4)
  • Nice post on the importance of culture – both defining it and living by it. What separates many good companies from being great is the people as well as the leadership – and the culture is the very tangible glue that holds it together. Hiring for skills are necessary; hiring for cultural fit is equally if not more important.

  • Implementing culture, or defining the culture of a business, is a lot of work, but in the end it is definitely worth it.

    At Zappos, our culture affects everything we do, and is really at the heart of every decision, big or small.

    We’ve developed as a way to share the culture, and help other businesses in taking a look at this modern culture. We go deeper into how to implement a culture for your business in the subscription area of Zappos Insights.

    We also have which gives a look into the daily goings-on here at Zappos!

    thanks for a great article! If you ever want to tour the offices, just let us know!

    • Jon, thanks for the comment. Since we are writing a book, and speak on how to create values-based cultures, I would love to see visit and witness your culture as it happens! Gayle

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