February 2nd, 2011
12:00 PM ET
February 2nd, 2011
11:42 AM ET
February 2nd, 2011
09:05 AM ET

Letters to the President #744 'Feet don't fail me'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: The president is hunting for innovative ways to get the economy moving. He might want to swing out to one particular firm in Henderson, Nevada.

Dear Mr. President,

When I heard that you had met with those tech folks in D.C. to talk about innovative ways to spur business and create jobs, I really wished you could have been with me for the day. I’m still out here in Nevada, and I went to an internet company that has turned into a runaway success precisely because it has implemented a lot of those entrepreneurial and outside-the-box ideas that so many other companies like to talk about.

Have you ever ordered shoes from Zappos.com? That’s where we were; in the order-taking, customer relations, corporate headquarters part. The actually shoe-shipping part is in Kentucky. Anyway, from the moment we walked in we could just tell this was not a bit like most big money businesses. It’s not just that they sell more than a billion dollars worth of merchandise annually. (They now handle clothing, handbags, and lots of other things beyond shoes, btw.)

The offices, sprawling through two floors of a business park complex, seem more like college dorms. Wild decorations scream out from every cubicle: Streamers from the ceiling, stuffed animals, noise makers, music posters. People drift from area to area dressed as casually as if they are going on a company picnic. The company offers a dazzling array of services: Arrangements for dry cleaning, day care, massages, vacations; there is free lunch, free snacks. Heck, they even have a nap room, and that pretty much sold me on the gig.

But getting a job there is tough. The screening process for new applicants takes months. And once you are in the training program (which everyone, from the top management to the newest newbie must take) you still face a tough hurdle: a couple of weeks in they offer you $4,000 to quit. No kidding. The idea is they want to weed out anyone who doesn’t really, really, really want to work here. And apparently that works pretty well. Even in this economy, they say only a tiny fraction of the people who make it that far in their hiring process take the cash.

Anyway, the bottom line is, they are stressing culture over all else. They believe lasting jobs are about more than a paycheck, and getting a company moving is about more than just having folks punch the clock and want a paycheck. And they are convinced, if you get the work culture part right, the rest of success will take care of itself.

Not to sound like a commercial, but it was an impressive joint. You should stop by if you get a chance.

Meanwhile, call if you can. I’m here for another couple of days, and my cell phone is always on.


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