Despite all the praise it deserves for building a paradigm-shifting e-commerce giant in Zappos, Tony Hsieh had a strong presence in his adopted Las Vegas home. The former CEO, who died of injuries in a house fire in Connecticut on Friday at the age of 46, was a downtown advocate and worked to revitalize it.
In a tweet, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak said that Hsieh “was instrumental in transforming downtown Las Vegas.”
His involvement was part of what got Hsieh to build Zappos. The company was famous for its flat corporate structure, which inspired and empowered employees to do whatever was in the best interests of the customer. For consumers, Zappos was a revelation that enabled free returns at a time when this practice was far from common.
“Tony’s kindness and generosity touched the lives of everyone around him and brightened the world forever,” said DTP Companies spokeswoman Megan Fazio, who led the downtown Las Vegas revitalization project, in a statement in the Las Vegas Review-Journal . “Bringing happiness has always been his mantra. Instead of mourning his transition, we ask you to celebrate his life with us.”
Zappos was founded in 1999 as ShoeSite.com. Hsieh, who retired as CEO in August after 21 years, invested in the company and took over the management and changed his name. Zappos’ customer service philosophy was legendary from the start, based on the simple concept of happiness, whether they were employees or customers of the company. A book he wrote in 2010 entitled “Delivering Happiness” documented his philosophy of customer service.
In 2004, Hsieh relocated the company from the Bay Area to Henderson, Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas. As e-commerce began to accelerate, Zappos was the beneficiary of rabid fans and evangelists, resulting in massive sales growth of over $ 1 billion in 2009. That same year, Hsieh sold Zappos to Amazon for an estimated $ 1.2 billion, a huge sum for an e-commerce startup at the time.
After the company was sold, Hsieh began directing his efforts, while still running the company, to the revitalization of Las Vegas’ Freemont Street, long overshadowed by the city’s iconic Strip.
He invested $ 350 million in real estate, technology startups, and other businesses in 2012, according to the Las Vegas Review journal. Hsieh moved Zappos to the area’s former 11-story town hall in 2013. He resigned and headed the Downtown project in 2014 and had amassed around 90 properties by 2017.
For all his accomplishments and impact, Hsieh was never a great personality. He often disapproved of the praise of his employees who ran a hugely successful business.
Perhaps the most accurate sum up of Hseih’s behavior, Guy Raz on Twitter said, “When I interviewed Tony Hsieh for @HowIBuilt, he was so quiet, humble, and understated that I literally had to ask him to brag about his incredible achievements. REST IN PEACE.”