I was fortune to be invited to the Montgomery Technology Conference held at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, CA, on March 6 and 7. This is the 10th year of the conference, and I’ve attended most of them. The keynote speaker on March 6 was Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, the online shoe and clothing company, which was acquired by Amazon in 2009 for $1.2 billion. Tony is also the author of Delivering Happiness – A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose, which debuted #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List in June 2010 and stayed on the list for 27 weeks. I knew of Tony but had never heard him speak. He’s an evangelist for corporate culture. As Tony puts it “…if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.”
I was expecting to hear a lot about how corporate culture shaped Zappos. And while I heard some of it, he was really there to talk about the Downtown Project. He’s taken what he has learned about company culture and is applying it to revitalizing the Fremont East area of Las Vegas. The goal is to restore this overlooked local community north of the strip through investments in startups ($50 million), real estate ($200 million), small business ($50 million), and education, arts and culture ($50 million). A large portion of this investment has been personally funded by Tony. This is no ordinary redevelopment project but a carefully thought out project designed to transform the area into the most community-focused large city in the world. I was fascinated as he talked about “serendipitous collisions” – the interactions between people that drive learning and innovation. Sounds like pie-in-the sky, but Tony related how these collisions are facilitated at Zappos and at the Downtown Project including the metrics to measure how many collisions they are facilitating. Go to DowntownProject.com for more information and a great slide presentation on the project. I’m looking forward to reading his book as well.