Tony Hsieh, the retired CEO of Las Vegas-based online shoe retailer Zappos.com, has died. He was 46.
Hsieh was with family when he died Friday, according to a statement from DTP Companies, which he founded.
“Tony’s kindness and generosity touched the lives of everyone around him, and forever brightened the world,” the statement said. “Delivering happiness was always his mantra, so instead of mourning his transition, we ask you to join us in celebrating his life.”
Hsieh, a serial entrepreneur, co-founded Zappos in 1999 and grew it into an unconventional blockbuster business before selling it to Amazon in 2009.
Zappos is famed for its emphasis on company culture and an incubator for testing theories about corporate culture and productivity – long before those ideas became the buzzwords they are today. Much of the groundwork lies with Hsieh.
As he built Zappos, Hsieh’s chief goal was to redefine the meaning of company culture. From the beginning, his singular vision set the company apart as a pioneer in footwear e-commerce. He has told Footwear News that Zappos is “a service company that just happens to sell shoes, and now it’s turned into: We’re a service company that just happens to sell blank.”
One of Zappos’ most unique aspects is its Culture Book, a collage of unedited submissions from employees within Zappos sharing what the Zappos culture means to them. Hsieh himself has written in the Culture Book that, “To me, the Zappos culture embodies many different elements. It’s about always looking for new ways to WOW everyone we come in contact with. It’s about building relationships where we treat each other like family. It’s about teamwork and having fun and not taking ourselves too seriously.”
Hsieh’s bet with Zappos was that by being good to its employees – for instance, by paying for 100 percent of health care premiums, spending heavily on personal development, and giving customer service reps more freedom than at a typical call center – the company would be able to offer better service than our competitors.
This drew interest from Amazon, which culminated in a US$1.2 billion sale in 2009. While many market watchers celebrated the marriage, they also speculated that the new parent could impose its own culture on the new division. But true to the initial agreement, Zappos has continued to operate separately from Amazon, maintaining its own leadership team and unique character. Hsieh was retained as its chief executive officer, a position he recently retired from in August 2020.
Aside from Zappos, Hsieh has also worked to revitalize downtown Las Vegas, pledging US$350 million in 2013 for redevelopment. The same year, he moved Zappos’ headquarters into the former Las Vegas City Hall building.
“Tony Hsieh played a pivotal role in helping transform Downtown Las Vegas,” Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak tweeted. “Kathy and I send our love and condolences to Tony’s family and friends during this difficult time.”