The business world was shocked and saddened this week to learn that the 46-year-old entrepreneur Tony Hsieh died of injuries sustained in a house fire over Thanksgiving weekend. Hsieh is best known as the former co-founder and CEO of Zappos, the shoe-and-apparel delivery company which was sold to Amazon for $1.2 billion in stock, and as the author of the bestselling business book, Delivering Happiness, A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose.
But Hsieh also is remembered for his presence and influence in the business events industry. He was a frequent keynote speaker, especially at tech conferences, where he used the platform his success in e-commerce gave him to talk about putting humans first in business and radically remaking the status quo. Among his many talks was one delivered at Convening Leaders in 2011 in Las Vegas, just after the publication of Delivering Happiness.
In 2011, Hsieh told Convening Leaders participants the story of how he made the shift from putting customers first to concentrating on creating employee happiness and creating company culture. The message, Hsieh told Convene in an interview before he spoke at Convening Leaders, is that once you do that, “then most of the other stuff, whether it’s delivering great customer service or building a long-term, enduring brand or business … will happen naturally on its own.”
The company took a year to define 10 core values, which remain on the Zappos website, on a page titled, “What we live by.” “It doesn’t matter what your core values are — just that you figure out what [they are], commit to them, and align your organization to them,” Hsieh told Convene. Zappos lived their values, Hsieh told the audience, including Core Value No. 10: Be Humble. When job candidates flew into Las Vegas, where Zappos was headquartered, a company shuttle driver picked them up for their day of interviews. Then at the end of the day, the shuttle driver would report back on how well he or she was treated by the candidate. If the answer was negative, Hsieh said, the candidates weren’t hired, regardless of their qualifications.
Hsieh also left his mark on downtown Las Vegas, where he invested millions into redeveloping the city. In 2012, Hsieh founded the Downtown Project, now known as DTP, and moved the company’s headquarters to the old City Hall building the following year. “Tony Hsieh meant so much to Las Vegas,” Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman wrote on Twitter following the news of his death. “He was always dreaming, working to inspire and leading others to create a new vision for tomorrow.”
The entrepreneur will be remembered for the passion with which he followed his dreams. During his 2011 Convening Leaders talk, Hsieh had a message that feels both fresh and poignantly relevant a decade later: “Every business has its ups and downs,” Hsieh said. “It’s your passion that will get you through tough times.”