Stephen Colbert wants to know: Is Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh really a cult leader?

Tony Hsieh (Wikipedia Photo)

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is one of the most accomplished Internet entrepreneurs on the planet, having sold his online clothing and shoe retailer to Amazon.com for $1.2 billion and a previous company to Microsoft. So, we were more than curious how the 37-year-old would hold up against the biting sarcasm of Stephen Colbert.

Hsieh appeared on The Colbert Report Monday night, promoting his book “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose.”

In his introduction, Colbert noted that Hsieh is of the belief that corporate culture can help promote employee happiness.

“That’s why I always tell my staff to smile, or they are fired,” Colbert said.

Dressed in jeans and a blue button down shirt, Hsieh seemed a bit nervous during the talk as he fielded questions from the comedian and talked about how happiness helped shape the Zappos business and culture.

Colbert also took a moment to ask Hsieh about what he looks for in employees.

“You say that you value weirdness. So, what are you looking for? Are you looking for a guy who comes in with like a pet snake around his shoulders and he starts rapping in Esperanto? What do you mean by weirdness?”

Hsieh pointed out that the key to hiring is to find people who are “a little weird, not psycho snake weird.”

Then, Colbert drilled more into the culture of Zappos, noting that employees are permitted to have costume parades and occasionally spend the night at Hsieh’s house.

“Is this a cult? Are you dear-leader-father of a cult? I mean, do you have child brides? How much control do you have over these people?”

Hsieh responded that the core values at Zappos help guide business decisions from all employees.

But Colbert just wasn’t buying it, telling Hsieh that happiness is overrated and asking him if there’s a way to “deliver suffering.”

Hsieh responded:

“I am really glad you asked that question because that’s actually a common response we get, especially from the business world where really the mentality is that we should just focus on profits and happiness has no place in the workplace. But, what’s interesting is research has actually shown that if employees are happier and customers are happier and there are strong company cultures, that that actually drives business results and those businesses tend to outperform their peers in the long run.”

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XOWQEZKPOFK7UPC6A4QCIK4QQY BarclayLedger

    For a guy that sells “happiness,” that was one of the most uncomfortable I’ve ever seen a guest on The Colbert Report.

    Hsieh didn’t laugh or even crack a smile the entire time. Just kept rambling on with his silly Power Point presentation about Zappo’s corporate philosophy, not even answering Colbert’s questions. His hands were clearly shaking the whole time.

    Hsieh’s material might fly on the cheesy motivational-speaking circuit, or in a boardroom business presentation, but on a show like The Colbert Report it was almost too easy to slice through the bologna.

  • Vegasdowntowner

    Tony did a great job of handling Colbert’s barrage of ridiculous questions.  Of course he was nervous.  He’s a businessman, not a talk show clown!

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  • http://twitter.com/athenachief Tom Ryan

    Was pretty unimpressed – he came across as a corporate shill who looked like he had something to hide.  Colbert was funny and kept tossing him softballs and Tony responded like he’d been coached by an attorney.

  • blue

    i worked at zappos. i quit after a week. some are really nice people but most are fake just to fit in their tech-savvy, electronic music loving culture. thry’re just too happy for me. sometimes, you need structures at work. you want colleagues not friends when working professionally. plus, there is no chance of promotion.