Holy Cow! Zappos Influences a Whole City with Passion Groups and Sustained Change

In Part 1 of this blog series, I wrote about our tour of the Zappos’ facility in Henderson, Nevada and how we were influenced by the extraordinary culture and people we met.  Our host Jamie Naughton, Speaker of the House and a senior leader at Zappos, provided us a shuttle to meet her in “The Beat” coffee house, where, in 2013, Zappos will complete a radical and surprising move of their operations to a downtown Las Vegas neighborhood called East Fremont.  An authentically hip, non-gaming zone sandwiched between the Fremont Street experience of the original Las Vegas strip, near the Smith Concert Hall (where Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh recently invested $2M) and next door to the Civic Center and Courthouse.  Zappos will actually begin renovating these buildings, the company’s future home, next year.

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The Beat coffee house is headquarters central for 31-year-old Jamie who holds down the fort for conversations with local community and business leaders, as well as after-work meetings of employee “Passion Groups” engaged in changing the face of the community they will occupy in two years.  Inside The Beat are artist studios and the Las Vegas Burlesque Museum.  Across the street is the El Cortez Casino established in 1941.  Some of the best hometown bars and restaurants scatter the few block area where Tony has visions of creating an Austin-type experience.  He in fact has moved into a new condo building across from the Civic Center and future Zappos’ site.  (Jamie also lives in the building now and is his neighbor.)  Tony regularly conducts business in his favorite East Freemont location, the totally cool Downtown Bar, and Jamie took us on a private walking tour of the area waving to many of the business owners she has become close partners with as we go.

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One of the many Zappos’ mottos is “We work, play, and live in the same community.”  Along with their 10 Values (see below), this is the glue that holds together one of the strongest cultures you will ever experience.  What has intrigued and impressed me the most about the story of the upcoming move downtown is the multiple levels that it addresses at once.  From a social responsibility/community perspective, Zappos chose to re-locate their growing company in the same general location.  They didn’t choose a fresh, up-and-coming corporate development park.  They chose instead to impact and revitalize a neglected part of Las Vegas and partner with efforts already underway.  Other companies may have done this, but not the Zappos’ way.  They believe that “more is less” and encourage creativity and passion.  Instead of simply pouring money into the revitalization, they are starting early and working through employee involvement to build new schools and daycare centers, encourage more housing development, bring in other high-tech companies, and fill in empty lots with urban gardens and parks – all through low-cost, innovative partnerships that stimulate growth, and in the end, create the sustainable neighborhood they want to be in.

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Why is this working?  Jamie relates to us, “Zappos is focusing on culture not location first.” – which it has always done well and is the secret sauce to all of its tremendous success.  Jamie explained that they have always had employee groups around areas of passionate interest outside regular jobs and volunteering on their own time.  Over the years, many have successfully submitted “z-frog” recommendations for community projects, but nothing like the enthusiastic response attached to the announcement for the downtown move.  “It has become the perfect opportunity for our people to express their passion in ways they never dreamed of,” Jamie shared.  As a matter of fact, every employee we randomly stopped earlier that day while touring the current headquarters and asked, “What do you think about the downtown move?” immediately demonstrated excitement about the possibilities it will bring for Zappos’ growth and their ability to contribute to the community in a positive way.  Jamie spent the morning coordinating a Passion Group Fair and taking employees on a tour of the downtown East Fremont area to mobilize even more participation and manage any resistance to the change.  After years in the change and transformation business, it’s truly remarkable to see a company that is so proactive.

We completed our afternoon with Jamie from a bird’s eye view overlooking the new headquarters’ property from the first condo building they are in partnership with.  Entire floors are being converted into “crash pads” so employees who are working late or simply wish to have a low cost space nearby can rent rooms in luxury pods.  Through Jamie’s eyes, we begin to see the vision.

  • The room to grow and expand.  The Civic Center is already double the amount of space of their current home in Henderson but it is anticipated when they move they will be at capacity.
  • The ability to transform both a company and a city at the same time.
  • Using the downtown move as a playground for reinforcing the Zappos’ culture that continues to inspire and motivate employees to always be their best.
  • The culture factor effect that spills over to some of the most admired customer service techniques in the world spurring their growth.

We can’t wait to go back again in a year from now and report on the progress made between now and then.

<insert video A Bird-Eye View of the Future>

Posted in Corporate Culture, customer service, employee engagement, Empowerment, Fun, Innovation, Jamie Naughton, Las Vegas, Passion Groups, Sustained Change, Tony Hsieh, values, Zappos

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