Tony Hsieh, a Las Vegas visionary and the former CEO of Zappos who rocketed the online shoe retailer to the big leagues with its billion-dollar sale to Amazon, has died at the age of 46. He died after sustaining injuries from a fire at his home in New London, Connecticut, his attorney Puoy Premsrirut told the Wall Street Journal.
Hsieh’s cause of death remains under investigation. Thomas Curcio, head of the New London Fire Department, said in an interview with the outlet that firefighters were called to the scene at 3:34 a.m. on Nov. 18 after receiving a report that someone was trapped. The victim, who had sustained visible burns and was suffering from smoke inhalation, was taken by ambulance to a local hospital before being flown to the Connecticut Burn Centre roughly an hour away, officials said. Hsieh’s brother was at his house when the fire broke out, a spokesperson for Hsieh told TechCrunch, but it’s unclear if anyone else was injured in the incident.
Zappos released a statement about his death shortly after midnight on Saturday.
“The world has lost a tremendous visionary and an incredible human being,” wrote Kedar Deshpande, who took over the company after Hsieh retired earlier this year. “Tony played such an integral part in helping create the thriving Zappos business we have today, along with his passion for helping to support and drive our company culture.”
DTP Companies, Hsieh’s side venture to revitalize older areas of Las Vegas, said he died peacefully on Friday surrounded by family in a press statement that called the incident “a heartbreaking tragedy.”
Hsieh was an unorthodox but widely admired businessman — when he wasn’t at his Connecticut home, the multi-millionaire lived out of an Airstream trailer in downtown Las Vegas — who began his career as one of the ‘90s leading internet pioneers. After graduating from Harvard and selling his first business, the online advertising firm LinkExchange, to Microsoft when he was just 24 years old, he used the profits to become a venture capitalist for technology startups. The most successful of those would be Zappos, an online clothing and shoe retailer that debuted in 1999 as ShoeSite.com (the name changed to Zappos, a quirky take on the Spanish word for “shoes,” not long after its launch). Hsieh joined as co-CEO in 2001, moved its headquarters from the Bay Area to Vegas in 2004, and lead the company through skyrocketing profits and growth, including a $US1.2 ($2) billion sale to e-commerce giant Amazon in 2009.
After helming the country for more than 20 years, Hsieh stepped down from the role in August, likely to focus on his other passion: urban regeneration. In addition to putting millions of dollars into DTP, he also heavily invested in startups under the condition that they move to downtown Vegas, a historic part of Sin City that’s been neglected over the years even as developers continue to pour billions into newer portions of the strip and the surrounding area. Several Nevada officials published statements on Twitter Saturday concerning the news of his death.
“Tony Hsieh played a pivotal role in helping transform Downtown Las Vegas,” Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak wrote.
“Very saddened to hear of the passing of Tony Hsieh,” said Las Vegas Councilman Cedric Crear. “Such a creative & innovative person who positively helped change the landscape of Downtown Las Vegas.”
Zappos CEO Deshpande welcomed people to send their fond memories of Hsieh to CelebratingTony@zappos.com, which will be shared with his family.