By Doug Zanger
5 hours ago
For all of the deserved plaudits for building a paradigm-changing ecommerce giant in Zappos, Tony Hsieh had a profound presence in his adopted hometown, Las Vegas. The former CEO, who died Friday from injuries suffered in a Connecticut house fire at age 46, was a champion of the city’s downtown area, that he worked to revitalize.
In a tweet, Nevada’s governor, Steve Sisolak, said that Hsieh “played a pivotal role in helping transform Downtown Las Vegas.”
His dedication was part and parcel of what Hsieh brought building Zappos. The company was famous for a flat corporate structure that inspired and empowered employees to do whatever was in the customer’s best interest. For consumers, Zappos was a revelation, allowing for free returns in a time when that practice was far from common.
“Tony’s kindness and generosity touched the lives of everyone around him, and forever brightened the world,” read a statement to the Las Vegas Review-Journal from spokesperson Megan Fazio of DTP Companies, which ran the downtown Las Vegas revitalization project. “Delivering happiness was always his mantra, so instead of mourning his transition, we ask you to join us in celebrating his life.”
Zappos started as ShoeSite.com in 1999. Hsieh, who retired as CEO in August after 21 years, invested in the company and took over as CEO, changing its name. From the beginning, Zappos’ customer service philosophy was the thing of legend and based on the simple concept of happiness, whether it was the company’s employees or customers. A 2010 book he wrote, “Delivering Happiness,” chronicled his customer service philosophy.
In 2004, Hsieh moved the company from the Bay Area to Henderson, Nev., just outside of Las Vegas. As ecommerce started to accelerate, Zappos was the beneficiary of rabid fans and evangelists, resulting in massive growth topping $1 billion in sales in 2009. That same year, Hsieh sold Zappos to Amazon for an estimated $1.2 billion, an enormous sum for an ecommerce startup at that time.
After selling the company, Hsieh started pointing his efforts, while still running the company, to revitalizing the Freemont Street area of Las Vegas, long dwarfed by the city’s iconic Strip.
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, he invested $350 million into real estate, tech startups and other ventures in 2012. Hsieh then moved Zappos to the former 11-story city hall in the area in 2013. He stepped down leading the Downtown Project in 2014 and, by 2017, had accumulated around 90 properties.
For all of his achievements and impact, Hsieh was never a big personality. He often deflected praise to his employees that drove a wildly successful business.
Guy Raz, on Twitter, may have summed up Hseih’s manner most accurately, saying, “When I interviewed Tony Hsieh for @HowIBuiltThis he was so soft-spoken, modest and understated that I had to literally ask him to ‘brag’ about his incredible achievements. RIP.”