“Happy at any Cost” by Kirsten Grind and Katherine Sayre is the story of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. Hsieh took over the struggling online shoe retailer in the early days of internet e-commerce and made it into a profitable company. Amazon later bought out the company for 1.2 billion making Hsieh a rich man. His management style was very employee and customer oriented. He paid the employees well with healthcare provided, made the workplace fun, gave a large bonus if they wanted to quit during training, and gave customers up to 365 days to return shoes to encourage them to buy online. He eventually took the company to fully self-managed teams, without much of a management hierarchy, which produced mixed results. Hsieh moved Zappos to Las Vegas and spent large amounts of money attempting to revitalize the downtown area. Hsieh spent his life looking for how to make himself, friends, employees, customers and others “happy”.
Hsieh dealt with social anxiety although he always kept a lot of friends around him. This anxiety and his search for the secret to happiness caused him to abuse drugs and alcohol which resulted in increasing mental problems and unstable behavior in the last years of his life. He was forced out of his position as CEO at Zappos by Amazon due to his erratic behavior. He ended up dying in a fire, possibly started by him, in a shed at a friend’s house in Connecticut at the age of 46.
Overall this book was a disappointing read. It focused excessively on Hsieh’s drug abuse and detailed descriptions of the various drugs he used and the people surrounding him which make the book drag while not adding much to the story. I would have preferred to have read more about his management philosophies which made Zappos one of the first online retail successes. In the end, the book focused on his drug aided pursuit of happiness which, focused on himself and his own ideas, he could never have found. The book is a reminder that the only happiness to be found is given to us freely by accepting the precepts of the God of the Bible.