Philosophy · 13 June 2014 · Ian Malpass

Random acts of leadership

One of the things I like best about working for Etsy is how easy it is to enthuse about the people I work with. There are various anecdotes I can tell about “business as unusual”, but one of my favourites came from when I was only a few months into my new job.

I work remotely, which means I travel to New York every so often to see everyone and get some face-to-face time with my colleagues. My second trip came just before Christmas of 2009 (always try to get to the Etsy Christmas party), and my return flight happened to coincide with a large snowstorm. Flights out of all New York airports were hit, but my airport—Newark—was shut down completely, and the airline was telling me the next flight I could get would be two days later.

All else being equal, there are worse places to get an extra two days than New York, but my wife was home alone, coping with an 8 month old baby who was teething and doing her best to avoid sleep at all costs. The only thing keeping her going was the knowledge that I would be home soon. There was a note of hysteria in her voice when I related the news.

As I scrambled to work out how to get home to rescue my wife, Chad Dickerson (then Etsy’s CTO, now CEO) encountered me looking fraught and asked what was wrong. When I explained, he just asked “How can I help?”. I said I’d found a flight out that evening on a different airline. “Book it. Here’s my card.”

I think those who know Chad better than I did then wouldn’t be terribly surprised by this, but right then it was entirely unexpected. One, quick, no-questions-asked “book it” took me from frazzled panic to calm relief in an instant (at least once the booking had gone through). Moreover, it demonstrated to me and my wife that our welfare mattered to Chad and to Etsy. Understanding that an employee’s family’s happiness is also important is significant. After that, future trips always came with the knowledge that Etsy had our back.

It was a small but powerful demonstration of a leadership philosophy that would naturally lead Etsy to becoming a certified B Corp. People matter. Their happiness and welfare matters. Good leaders know this and act on it.