How Netflix CEO Hastings stays agile

December 13, 2010, 11:19 PM UTC

by Patricia Sellers

Yahoo (YHOO) has reportedly begun the layoffs that I wrote about on Postcards last week.

Meanwhile, the Silicon Valley company that’s dominating the news is Netflix . Founder-CEO Reed Hastings is Fortune‘s Businessperson of the Year. In the past three weeks since we put him on the cover, the war of words over his power — and his level of threat to the media giants’ steady profit streams — rises daily. Jeff Bewkes, the CEO of Time Warner, which owns Fortune, quips about Netflix in the New York Times today: “It’s a little bit like, is the Albanian army going to take over the world? I don’t think so.”

Time will tell if Netflix’s business model — charging subscribers about $8 for monthly streaming — will enable it to compete for premium content. (Bewkes and many others say it won’t.) But the current reality is that Netflix shares have increased 250% this year, far outperforming stalwarts like Time Warner and Walt Disney . Disney, by the way, last week announced a deal to expand its content offerings on Netflix.

Two weeks ago when I was in Silicon Valley for Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women dinner (I interviewed Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz), I visited Netflix, hung with Hastings and his crew, and roamed the offices that he, I was told, was embarrassed to move into in early 2006. Back then, Netflix relocated from a renovated hat factory into loft-like offices in a Mediterranean-style office park in Los Gatos, California. Nothing fancy, just perfectly pleasant. But Hastings, who is a no-fuss guy in every way, viewed the new digs as over the top — and vowed to his troops that the new-HQ curse that afflicts many companies wouldn’t poison Netflix.

He showed them. As I toured Netflix, one fact blew me away–and this is a nugget that got cut from my colleague Michael Copeland’s terrific Fortune cover story about the risk-taking CEO who is “restless, slightly paranoid…with a Steve Jobs-like perfectionist streak”: Hastings doesn’t have an office. Everybody else at Netflix has a cubicle, but the CEO doesn’t even have that. Not a desk…not a chair.

“Where does Reed put his stuff when he arrives in the morning?” I asked chief marketing officer Leslie Kilgore. She told me that Hastings has no “stuff,” except for his Lenovo laptop, which he totes under his left arm, and his Apple iPhone, which he usually carries in his right hand.

Hastings wanders a lot (there’s an art to managing that way). And when he has time to himself, the boss plops himself in an available conference room — here labeled “Cheers” or “Sex and the City” or “King Kong ” or some other TV show/movie title. Netflix’s chief is agile on his feet. No wonder he keeps turning on a dime.