Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO and Founder of Las Vegas Downtown Project, Dies Aged 46

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In a tragic development, Tony Hsieh, the former CEO of Zappos and founder of the Las Vegas Downtown project, died at at 46 of complications from injuries suffered in a house fire.

From what I know about him, Hsieh was one of the good guys. I also had some personal interactions with him. I discovered that he was reading my blog when his assistant reached out to tell me that he wanted to give me $1000. Later, he invited me out to Vegas to stay in one of his “crash pads” and check out what they were doing in downtown Las Vegas.

You might say this was marketing on his part. Well yes, yes it was - and very good marketing too. I’ve said many times before, most cities could only dream of having someone as motivated and competent as Tony Hsieh selling their city.

But he went well beyond marketing. He gave me and a couple people who owned a small business he was trying to recruit to Las Vegas, a personal tour of the downtown project. He gave me his cell phone number (and responded to texts). He would hang out at the Gold Spike (a former casino he bought) and just sit at the bar and talk with people. I had more personal time with him than any other high net worth person/CEO I’ve ever interacted with.

If there’s one thing I can’t abide it’s people who think they are too cool for school. Tony was nothing like that. The number of people on Twitter telling stories about how he personally did something for them is a testament to that. The number of people who got the “WOW” experience from Tony Hsieh is certainly quite large.

While I had some critiques of the downtown project, his vision to remake the unbelievably bleak downtown Las Vegas into a hub of creativity was audacity on steroids. Again, most cities could only dream of having someone with that kind of vision and willingness to attempt the impossible.

His business book and memoir Delivering Happiness is well worth reading.

In the world of urbanism, Tony Hsieh will definitely be missed.

You can read my review of the Downtown Project on my personal homepage: part one and part two.

This piece first appeared on Heartland Intelligence.

Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker and writer on a mission to help America’s cities and people thrive and find real success in the 21st century. He focuses on urban, economic development and infrastructure policy in the greater American Midwest. He also regularly contributes to and is cited by national and global media outlets, and his work has appeared in many publications, including the The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Photo credit: Nan Palmero, CC BY 2.0