This week, Prime Chief of Staff welcomes its first-ever Chief Operating Officer, Jamie Naughton Henriod. Since Prime’s inception in 2014, our team has grown to include 13 members belonging to four departments. We are excited to begin working alongside Jamie and witness the passion and skillset she brings to Prime. Jamie has 15 years of experience in branding, operations, and creating employee-centric work environments and company cultures. Jamie relies on authentic relationships and mutual trust to translate big ideas into doable, attainable plans. Prior to joining Prime Chief of Staff, she held several leadership roles at Zappos.com, including Chief of Staff and Head of Corporate Communications. Most recently, Jamie served as Vice President of Talent and Culture at Cricut. Jamie’s exceptional experience and abilities make her an exciting, welcome addition to the Prime team.
As we awaited Jamie’s start date, we formed some questions that we hope will provide some insight into how Jamie approaches leadership, optimizes executive offices, and the strengths her tenure as a Chief of Staff provided her.
Prime: Jamie, we’re a little starstruck that you worked at Zappos, a brand known for delivering exceptional customer experiences and also named on Fortune’s list of best companies to work for. You were Chief of Staff to Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh for roughly 10 years. Tell us how your relationship with Tony began and progressed. How did you build trust with one another?
Jamie: I worked at Zappos for six years prior to moving departments to work with Tony directly. For those six years, my primary focus was on Zappos’ culture and employee communications, two things that Tony cared a lot about. Because of the importance he placed on those two things, Tony and I were always communicating or brainstorming together. When I left the HR team to work for Tony directly, we were intentional about building trust. To build that trust, we spent time together. I was with him sometimes up to 12 hours a day and attended almost all of his meetings–business and personal. He gave me access to just about anything I could ever need or want to know about him, Zappos, and his other companies and investments. Once I knew him and the company inside and out, he was very hands off. I was able to spend less time with him and more time doing the things that he didn’t have time for.
Prime: Are there particular skills of yours that Tony valued most?
Jamie: Tony was pretty quiet most of the time and he wasn’t big on words of affirmation. We were very opposite in that way. He would get uncomfortable if you thanked him or got too gushy with him, which was our ongoing joke. I would do things to push him out of his comfort zone and get him to be more vocal in his appreciation of others. And he knew what would make me squirm too, so he would always sign me up for stuff he knew I would cringe at. I think we helped each other grow. With all of that said, there are a few things he said about me that I will always remember. He once said that I had a unique ability to know what he would say in any given situation. I remember how shocked I was when he said that because he wasn’t always an easy man to figure out. He was a complex thinker and honestly one of the most brilliant people I have ever met. He also said I was a neutral party in almost any situation, a peacemaker, and told me I can get along with anyone. He said that’s what makes me a great leader and a superpower he always wanted around.
Prime: What awesome memories. Do you feel your skills were quite similar to Tony’s, or did you have skills in areas that Tony needed support in? In other words, were your skills a match to Tony’s or a complement?
Jamie: I feel like our skill sets were complimentary but very different. He had big vision with big plans. I would help translate that into day-to-day reality. I was often a communicator and translator of his ideas. He was an entrepreneur in every sense of the word, the only limits were our imagination. Depending on the project, I was tasked with the people side of those ideas, building the team to meet that vision, and leading them through completion of it.
Prime: What do you think are the most important things for an executive to know if they are considering bringing on a Chief of Staff for the first time?
Jamie: Chiefs of Staff are as varied as the executives they support. I advise executives to keep an open mind about what skills and backgrounds their ideal Chief of Staff might have. Many of the most successful Chiefs of Staff come from very surprising backgrounds. I recommend finding someone who can fill the gaps that exist in your executive office. To do that, you will likely need to meet people with very different skills from the ones you already have. Lastly, the more time a Chief and their executive spend together the better they both will be. I could predict what Tony would say in most contexts because I spent a ton of time with him in a variety of situations. It’s a relationship, and just like with any relationship, these things take time.
Prime: What is your advice to Chiefs of Staff who are considering how they can best support their executive/executive team?
Jamie: Relationships are key to getting the job done. Take the time to build authentic relationships with everyone around you, as they all play a role in your success.
Prime: What is a common trait or skill among the most successful and effective leaders you’ve worked with?
Jamie: I’m not sure I can come up with just one trait, so here are some of my top ones.
- The most successful and effective leaders are great delegators – no one can do it all and the ability to delegate is a skill that takes time to develop. Delegation helps not only the leader but gives those around them the ability to learn and step up to the challenge.
- They also prioritize employees as much as customers – They go hand in hand. You can’t have happy customers if you don’t have happy employees. Achieving both of those take time and money. Plan your employee strategy as much as you do your customer strategy.
- The best leaders are radically transparent – They give their team access to as much information as possible. They overthink what needs to be confidential and why. The more information people have the better decisions they can make.
- They listen (a lot) and they ask questions – One of the key traits I have noticed between leaders who are well-respected and those who aren’t boils down to this…they listen way more than they talk. They ask questions. They are genuinely interested in learning. They are humble and know they don’t have all the answers.
As of Jamie’s second week, she has already given us new ideas and perspectives to consider. Selfishly, we are excited to learn from Jamie and assist her in building Prime’s culture and ethos of client experience. We are also quite excited for Jamie to serve as an expert advisor to our clients. It is our hope that Jamie’s experience in operations, branding, and culture-building will provide Prime’s clients with insight and tactical strategy they can use to optimize their executive offices and achieve their organization’s goals.