Tony Hsieh: The best advice I ever got

May 1, 2012: 5:47 AM ET
Zappo's CEO Tony Hsieh's best advice:

Tony Hsieh: "Focus on friendships as their own reward."

FORTUNE -- "Fred Mossler and I joined Zappos at the same time in 1999. Early on, it was hard to get brands to sign up. The traditional mentality for a lot of retailers was: Squeeze your suppliers. I didn't come from a retail background, but Fred did. Before Zappos he was with Nordstrom (JWN, Fortune 500). I thought I should be negotiating hard, but Fred was focused on coming up with win-win situations. He told me to build relationships for the sake of the relationships. That really shifted my thinking.

"Six years ago Fred had a friendship with a rep for a small brand. The brand's contribution to our sales was insignificant, so going to a dinner with him during a shoe show, when there were hundreds of other brands there, didn't make a lot of sense. But it was still something Fred prioritized, based on the friendship. A week after the dinner, Fred's friend became president of a major brand we had been trying to get. If you're focused on the friendship as its own reward, serendipitous stuff just happens. I know that sounds weird, but I can tell you for our 12 years of existence, it's actually how a lot of stuff happens."

Tony Hsieh

Age: 38

Job experience: Co-founder of LinkExchange, an Internet advertising network; co-founder of Venture Frogs, an investment firm that put money into Zappos and OpenTable (OPEN), among others; later became CEO of online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos.com, which in 2009 reached $1 billion in gross sales.

Claim to fame: In 1998, Hsieh (pronounced shay) sold LinkExchange, which he co-founded, to Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) for $265 million. In 2009, Zappos was acquired by Amazon (AMZN, Fortune 500) for $1.2 billion. His 2010 book, Delivering Happiness, is about the blissful (and successful) corporate culture at Zappos. In March, Zappos set the Guinness world record for Most Simultaneous High Fives.

This story is from the April 30, 2012 issue of Fortune. To top of page