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Tony Hsieh (1973–2020), longtime Zappos CEO

by Linnea Crowther

Tony Hsieh was the longtime CEO of Zappos, who built the online shoe retailer into a billion-dollar business.

Visionary career

Hsieh was a recent Harvard graduate when he founded LinkExchange, an early internet advertising network. In 1998, two and a half years after he founded it, Hsieh sold LinkExchange to Microsoft for $265 million. He founded Venture Frogs, a business incubator that invested in startups including Ask Jeeves, OpenTable, and, most notably, Zappos. Hsieh and Venture Frogs helped get Zappos – then called ShoeSite.com – off the ground in 1999, and in 2000, Hsieh became Zappos’ CEO.

Hsieh built a business based on extraordinary customer service, working from the beginning to make customers feel comfortable with the then-new process of shopping online. Zappos also became known for its corporate culture, offering good compensation though Hsieh insisted on a small salary for himself. In 2013, he introduced a new structure for Zappos employees that he called “holacracy,” eliminating the hierarchy and doing away with bosses and supervisors in favor of employee self-governance. In 2009, Hsieh sold Zappos to Amazon, though he remained CEO until his retirement in August 2020.

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Hsieh on holacracy

“Imagine a greenhouse with lots of plants, and each plant represents an employee. Maybe at a typical company, the CEO is the tallest, strongest plant that the other plants aspire to one day become. That’s not how I think of my role. Instead, I think of my role as the architect of the greenhouse, and to help figure out the right conditions within the greenhouse to enable all of the other plants to flourish and thrive.” —from a 2017 interview with McKinsey Quarterly

Tributes to Tony Hsieh

Full obituary: Las Vegas Review-Journal

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