Loss lessons


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James Goodnow (left), Mark Lamber (center), and Andy Clawson (right) learn about corporate culture in Zappos, Las Vegas. (Image provided by James Goodnow.)

The death of Tony Hsieh came as a shock last week. Hsieh, aged just 46, is best known for his 21-year tenure as CEO of Zappos. He quietly retired from the position in August and turned his attention full time toward rebuilding and revitalizing downtown Las Vegas. Hsieh started the business in 2013 to invest in the community and rebuild it into something dynamic and thriving. He pledged $ 350 million of his own money to achieve the goal. Hsieh had new big adventures and accomplishments ahead of him. Now, we can’t help but wonder what he could have done more.

I have written Earlier in this columnAnd with great admiration about the unique “Holacrachia” that Hsieh founded during his time in Zappos. After going for years as a fairly traditional startup company, Hsieh experimented drastically by ditching organizational charts, job titles, and managerial relationships within the company to make it more in direct alignment with the core values ​​he set to build Zappos around. Many left the experience, but with those who remained behind, Hsieh carefully created a newer, better, and more deliberate culture of risk-taking, camaraderie, and open communication. Instead of blowing up the company, Zappos saw it continue to grow and thrive to the point it acquired Amazon in 2009.

King of culture

Arguably Hsieh’s obsession with culture was his hallmark as a leader. Passionately interested in cultivating a culture that aligns with his company’s core values, Hsieh began hosting “culture camps” for other interested business leaders to learn how to incorporate Zappos’ dynamic experiences into their daily lives.

Hsieh realized that employees can make money almost anywhere, but they are at their most happy, satisfying, and productive when they feel part of something bigger – a place where everyone can make a difference in the workplace. When someone dedicates themselves completely to building a home where people from all walks of life can come together, bonded like a family in pursuit of a common cause, their sudden absence leaves behind a huge gap in the societies they have built. Las Vegas lives in mourning this week as she begins to heal the loss of one of her favorite children.

Even though I didn’t know him, I have long been a fan of Hacy. In 2017, two of my close colleagues, Mark Lamber and Andy Clawson, visited Zappos’ Las Vegas headquarters to learn more about how Hsieh has grown and developed his company culture. Mark and Andy and I have been working side by side every day for years, on construction Our practice With a small core team. We built a sense of trust and camaraderie that we wanted to cultivate in our range of practice and throughout the company. This trip and the brainstorming methods to bring these lessons home, are some of my fondest memories.

On March 18, 2019, Andy passed away.

Hole in the world

Andy’s death was sudden and unexpected, at the age of 37, leaving behind his beloved wife Amber. One day, the beating heart of our team was beating thoughts into his laptop, making jokes, keeping training boards spinning, exuding kindness and warmth, and making my life better just by being there. Then it wasn’t.

On the worst days, it seems like there is a hole in the world somewhere out of sight. I still find myself thinking about what Andy would say about the situation, or how the world would be brighter if it still existed. On the better days, it seems his soul is still with us. Andy was a sticky person, one of those characters that brings people together and makes them want to be more compassionate, hard-working, and be better overall. I know I am better because I just spent time with him. I know our company is a better place to this day for the kindness he shared here. But, as I learned from his death, countless others in Andy’s orbit I had never met better because of his kindness, warmth, and friendship.

Get ready for the new year

December is traditionally the beginning of the season for reunion and reunion. This year, for many of us, it will be a season of reflection for those we lost. With COVID-19 numbers soaring, we continue to see disease and loss rupture businesses, our neighborhoods, the country and the world. There might be a vaccine on the horizon, but that isn’t helping today. No business, team, or person is out of bounds. We are connected to our common weaknesses.

I write often in this column about building a team culture as a means to an end. It makes workers happier and law firms more successful. Although this is true, it is only part of the equation. The rest falls outside of our direct and firm teams. In addition to being legal professionals, we are members of larger communities. We need to pay attention to our friends, co-workers, neighbors, first responders, PTA members, colleagues, the staff of corner grocery stores – and even the attorneys on the other side of those copycat and padded deals. We need to grow a strong business And the Community cultures.

Because in the end, that’s all we leave behind: what we did for each other.


James Goodnow He is the CEO and Managing Partner of NLJ 250 Finmore Craig. At the age of thirty-six, he became the youngest known CEO of a large law firm in the United States. He holds a JD from Harvard Law School and dual business administration degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is currently studying at the University of Cambridge Business School (UK), where he is working towards his Masters in Entrepreneurship. James is the co-author of Motivating Millennials, Which ranked first on Amazon in the New Business Edition category. As a practitioner, he and his colleagues created and managed technology-based The practice of the plaintiffs And business model. You can reach out to James on Twitter (JamesGoodnow) or by emailing them at James@JamesGoodnow.com.


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