Tony Hsieh, Longtime Chief of Zappos, Dies at 46


Tony Hsieh, the 46-year old technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist who built Zappos into a $1 billion internet shoes and clothing powerhouse, died on Friday. He was 46.

The cause was injuries suffered in a house fire on Nov. 18 in New London, Conn., according to Megan Fazio, a spokeswoman for The Downtown Project in Las Vegas, a revitalization effort which Mr. Hsieh oversaw.

Mr. Hsieh (pronounced shay) was apparently visiting family at the time. His death was confirmed by Zappos in a statement from the company’s chief executive, Kedar Deshpande. Further details were not immediately available.

Mr. Hsieh stepped down as chief executive in August after 21 years with the company, which began selling shoes online in 1999.

Having sold his first company, LinkExchange, an online advertising network, to Microsoft in 1998 for $265 million, Mr. Hsieh became a venture capitalist and invested in a San Francisco-based retail shoe start-up, then called ShoeSite.com. He quickly took over as C.E.O. and focused his efforts on building the company into an internet giant. (The name was changed to Zappos.com, an adaptation of “zapatos,” the Spanish word for shoes, according to the company website.).

In the nascent period of internet commerce, Mr. Hsieh was a visionary who realized that getting customers to feel comfortable and secure buying online was the key to success and growth.

To do that, employees in the call center had to engage customers as if speaking to an old friend, with authentic-sounding welcoming banter.

Mr. Hsieh surprised the Silicon Valley world by moving the company from San Francisco to a suburb of Las Vegas, where he built a culture of “fun and a little weirdness” that resulted in skyrocketing growth.

From $1.6 million in sales in 2000, Zappos surpassed $1 billion in revenues by 2009. In July 2009, Mr. Hsieh sold the company for $1.2 billion to Amazon.

Mr. Hsieh, a soft-spoken and introspective executive, developed a philosophy of business built around the idea that happy employees were the conduit to satisfied customers who would return again and again.

An avid reader, he wrote a best-selling book, “Delivering Happiness,” in 2010, describing his customer service philosophy.

During his tenure at Zappos, Mr. Hsieh launched the Downtown Project, aimed at revitalizing the once-neglected downtown section of Las Vegas and turning it into a vibrant area where Zappos employees would live. The effort grew beyond Mr. Hsieh’s original concept and the area has attracted thousands of technology workers and entrepreneurs.

“Tony Hsieh played a pivotal role in helping transform Downtown Las Vegas,” Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada wrote on Twitter.

Christina Morales contributed reporting.

A complete obituary will follow.



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