Wayfair CEO returns home to celebrate opening of new Pittsfield call center

Wayfair co-founder and CEO Niraj Shah speaks Thursday morning at a grand opening event for the company's new call center in Pittsfield.

PITTSFIELD — Mayor Linda Tyer introduced Wayfair co-founder and CEO Niraj Shah as "our new and old friend," during a ceremony Thursday welcoming the the online furniture retailer's newest customer service center.
Shah told The Eagle that this homecoming has been a trip down memory lane: He drove by the homes he lived in while growing up in Pittsfield — on Williams Street and Bellmore and Brookside drives. 
Now a billionaire, Shah put a foot back in Pittsfield on Thursday at a time when the city is rebuilding. Community leaders reveled in the moment: Wayfair's newly finished service center, in the Clock Tower Business Center on South Church Street, is projected to result in 300 jobs locally. Wayfair, a Boston-based e-commerce company that sells furniture and home-goods, employs nearly 10,000 globally.
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Tyer praised Michael Coakley, the business development manager she hired to roll out the red carpet for businesses like Wayfair. 
"This is your first big win. Way to go," Tyer told him during her remarks at the ceremony. 
When Tyer's Red Carpet Team began discussions with Wayfair, she said the company's first question was "Where's the best place to get ice cream?"
"That is when I knew that this was going to be a great alliance," she said.
Shah, 45, was born at Berkshire Medical Center, attended Herberg Middle and Williams Elementary schools, and graduated from Pittsfield High in 1991. 
When he left Pittsfield after high school, Shah said the city was facing new challenges. 
Today, "There's just some exciting things going on," he said. "And you can see it. You can feel it." 
To fill jobs at the company, "We need the community to be a place that they want to be," Shah told The Eagle.
Wayfair's Pittsfield center has received 1,000 job applications and has hired about 30 people so far, Shah said. The company aims to make two dozen hires here a month until reaching about 300 employees.
Shah said he's looking to hire people with the right "culture fit." 
"They care a lot and they're very driven," he said. "They kind of have that entrepreneurial mindset." 
Shah said the people the company hires tend to grow and become more marketable to other agencies. The current jobs are one thing, but he said Wayfair has more in store.
"Hopefully, we'll be viewed as a great partner to the community for more than just that," he said.
Gov. Charlie Baker attended the event and spoke in the context of regional economic development efforts. 
While many people grow up, leave home and never look back, that wasn't the case with Shah, according to Baker.
"For Niraj, this was personal," Baker said.
"I know you think you had to work for this one, mayor, but I'm telling you, you kinda had — we kinda had — him at 'Hello,'" the governor said, drawing a laugh.
But in seriousness, Baker said, Wayfair's move to Pittsfield speaks volumes about Shah and about the city. 
"[Shah] really wanted to be here," Baker said, turning toward Shah's parents. "And I think in some respects that's a big statement about the young man you raised, and it's a big statement about this community — that it stuck with him no matter where he went and what he's doing." 
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier's statement at the microphone seemed to address Baker's earlier one about the local effort it took to land Wayfair.
"It wasn't magic that brought the Shah family back to Pittsfield," Farley-Bouvier said. "It was good, old-fashioned hard work."
Tyer led the team "that was able to bring a global company to Pittsfield," Farley-Bouvier added.
Pete Boudreaux, head of service for Wayfair, thanked Jonathan Butler of 1Berkshire, and also credited Tyer and her administration for making way for the company. 
"Contrary to what the governor feels, it was a lot of work," Boudreaux said.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said that for someone like Shah to take an interest in Pittsfield, it serves as a validation to local leaders who have worked for decades to bolster to the community. 
"That's a really big step," she said.
Polito said it also calls attention to the fact that "everyone can do their part in making their home community a little bit better."
U.S. Congressman Richard Neal said the regional collaboration that landed the Wayfair deal speaks to the need to work at a larger level. And for Berkshire County, he said improving the economy and filling jobs is "also about skill-set going forward." 
"Investment is only going to follow opportunity," Neal said.
Mike Kennealy, Baker's secretary of housing and economic development, called economic development "the ultimate team sport."
"The sense of collaboration and pride is evident when you come out here," he said of the Berkshires. 
Wayfair, a publicly traded company, struggles to attain profitability, but it has had strong growth of late. Its recent earnings report showed a 42 percent increase to $2.3 billion.
Its stock on the New York Stock Exchange closed Thursday at $104.66 a share. Wayfair will release third quarter results on Oct. 31.
Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.