CEO Spotlight

CEO Spotlight: The story of Tony Hsieh, an innovative entrepreneur

Tony Hsieh
Tony Hsieh

How do you end up from a delivery guy to be one of the richest men in the world? Every young student may start ambitious but somewhere along the way the compromises we have to make in order to fit in the conditions we live in, usually, drive us to a different path.

Tony Hsieh‘s story is a bit different than most of us and certainly very interesting to discuss. His persistence and focus were not the only things he had to succeed. The once young student had a vision and managed to realize how things were going to work in a few years. In other words, he was ahead of his time. So… what about him?

Tony Hsieh was born in Illinois and raised in the San Francisco Bay area, however, his ancestry is from Taiwan, and is now only 46 years old. He graduated from the University of Harvard in 1995 as a computer scientist. During his studies, the young and ambitious boy used to make some pocket money by delivering pizza to his fellow students. As it turned out Alfred Lin, one of his best clients became the CFO and COO of Tony’s super-successful shoe company in the future.

Only five months after his first post-graduate job in Oracle Corporation he left the position, because of the poor working conditions. He and his former fellow student Sanjay Madan, who was also an employee in Oracle Corporation, co-founded the Internet advertising network LinkExchange. LinkExchange had similar luck like Zappos since it was sold to Microsoft for $265, 11 years earlier. The company managed to collect 20,000 entries, displaying in the form of banners the websites of its customers more than 10 million times within 90 days. In November of 1998, he decided to sell the company to Microsoft for $265 million leaving his pocket full.

A year after the sale of LinkExchange to Microsoft, an intelligent businessman, Nick Swinmurn approached him to talk to him about Zappos. The idea was to sell shoes through the internet and it was pretty new for that time. Nick Swinmurn argued that 5% of the total footwear market in the United States was sold by paper mail. Introducing the idea of online marketing for such a common product was not that risky according to Nick. Tony, a natural talent for business as he was soon persuaded to take the step future and move forward with the company. The founder and CEO of the company Tony decided to use the same approach as in LinkExchange. He scaled the business to an extent that would allow him to sell it to a giant like Amazon. In 2009 Amazon bought Zappos for $ 1,2 billion. Until August of 2020 when he decided to leave Zappos, Tony Hsieh was the CEO of the company.

Ever since 2009, Tony Hsieh is footing his step in the real estate business and it is more than obvious that he will change the scenery there. His properties in Las Vegas and Park City of Utah are worth millions of dollars. For Las Vegas, his ambition was to form the downtown area of the city into a place where his employees can live and work. Apart from his employees, he hopes that other entrepreneurs can roof their vision in the downtown of the eccentric city. His exact plans for the landscape of the American economy are not completely clear, but we are sure profit is not the only criterion.

The credits for his success are not entirely his. Sanjay Madan and later on Nick Swinmurn created the building foundations for both companies. Tony is a team player and that we believe is his greatest advantage. Tony Hsieh is one of the most likable CEOs of today’s world. The way he humanized the working conditions of his employees helped him gain a prestigious profile among his colleagues. Being a capitalist has not led him to the false conclusion that taking advantage of other people’s work will lead him to the desired profit. No, for Tony keeping his team happy is what set him apart and helped him outstand.

Innovative as he was always, in 2015, he removed the directors from his company as a form of self-organization. He himself stated ”

“Like all the bold steps we’ve taken in the past, it sounds a little scary, but it’s the next step that only a company like Zappos would dare to take on this scale.”


Written by Anna Siampani.

Anna Siampani
Anna Siampani is culture and lifestyle editor at the CEOWORLD magazine, working with reporters covering the luxury travel, high-end fashion, hospitality, and lifestyle industries. Anna has initiated her career focusing on science studies. She holds a B.Sc. degree in Science and an MSc in Chemical Engineering. Still, her passion for travel and sharing her experiences has led her to work in the tourist section and devote herself to writing about various issues. You can reach Anna by mail at anna@ceoworld.biz
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