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Remembering An Inspirational CEO

Wake up every day and ask yourself not only what is the 1% improvement I can change to make Zappos better, but also what is the 1% improvement I can change to make myself better personally and professionally. In the end we, as Zappos, can’t grow unless we, as individuals, grow too.”

— Tony Hsieh

It was with surprise and sadness that I learned yesterday of the passing of Tony Hsieh, the former CEO of Zappos, after a house fire in late November in Connecticut in the US. He was only 46.

Zappos revolutionised online shopping and was one of the pioneers in the model of allowing free returns for any shoes bought through their website. They were also revolutionary in the premium they placed on excellent customer service.

Tony also became very well known for his very unique approach to business culture and the idea of happiness in work as being essential to high performance and great customer service.

Mr. Amazon, Jeff Bezos, bought Zappos in 2009 for over $1Billion and one of the main reasons for the value of the acquisition was because Bezos wanted to learn how to create the culture Zappos had.

Tony wrote a New York Times best-selling book on his experiences and views called “Delivering Happiness: A Path To Profits, Passion and Purpose”.

But despite all of the wealth, fame and business magazine covers it seems that Tony struggled with life, and that his desire to spread happiness to others came from a deep unhappiness inside himself.

In August of this year he stepped down as CEO, and from the stories emerging it sounds like he faced some very hard times during this pandemic.

One of the stories that caught my attention was shared in Forbes, where they revealed that one of his longtime friends, the signer Jewel, had visited Tony recently at his home but left abruptly, disturbed at what she had experienced.

Shortly after, the singer sent Hsieh a letter via FedEx, since he had removed email and texts as part of a digital cleanse.

“I am going to be blunt,” she wrote in the letter.

“I need to tell you that I don’t think you are well and in your right mind. I think you are taking too many drugs that cause you to disassociate.”

She continued:

“The people you are surrounding yourself with are either ignorant or willing to be complicit in you killing yourself.”

It seems that many of his friends had also tried to reach out but to no avail.

I was inspired over the years by Tony and his bravery in business. But the final part of his story is also a sobering reminder that true happiness never comes from wealth or fame. And also that the quality of the people we have around us is vital to our well being and success.

It’s easy to get lost in an echo chamber when people tell us what we want to hear.

The part I’d like to remember this man by is as the revolutionary he was, in terms of what work can be. He was also a very kind and extremely generous person, and his personal mission was ‘to inspire and be inspired.’

Usually I end this weekly post with a question to challenge you into action.

Today, in memory of Tony, that challenge is a daily one for your week ahead – and it’s embedded in his quote at the beginning.

RIP Tony Hsieh.



PS – That Forbes article is here if you’re interested.

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