John L. Smith On The Life And Death Of Tony Hsieh


(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

In this June 25, 2014, file photo, former President Bill Clinton, left, speaks with CEO Tony Hsieh during a forum on the final day of the annual gathering of the Clinton Global Initiative America in Denver.

The death of Tony Hsieh, the visionary developer of Zappos, who poured millions into downtown redevelopment, shocked and saddened many Las Vegans who appreciated his out-of-the-box approach.  

Some appreciated his seemingly carefree approach and casual style. Others were heartened by the way he created small business opportunities in the city’s blighted urban core.

"The loss of someone who is creative and generous and contributed so much to the community, in a relatively short period of time, that’s a tragedy in itself," said contributor John L. Smith of the passing of Hsieh.

Smith said it may take many more years before Hsieh's influence will actually be measured in Las Vegas.

“The bottom line is putting that much energy into downtown at a time when it was really down on its heels you don’t know the effect of that in our time now," he said, "In a few years, it may spark other people to invest downtown. It may remind people that there is energy downtown."

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Hsieh invested in an area that had seen better decades let alone better years, Smith said. The tech CEO didn't just bring a big idea he brought a bankroll to back up that idea.

“The city leaders were clearly looking at Hsieh, finding him very charming, but also seeing that he was actually bringing money to downtown," Smith said.

The City of Las Vegas and Zappos worked out a deal for the online retailer to take over the old city hall and turn it into its headquarters. Smith notes the building went for "a song," and while some might debate whether that was a good idea, it brought not just people, but young people, downtown.

“When you see what followed, that’s part of that success in the making,” Smith said.

Some people, like former City Councilman Bob Coffin, have compared Hsieh to Howard Hughes, Smith sees another comparison. He is reminded of Steve Wynn's gamble on the Golden Nugget downtown.

The shiny property brought attention and likely saved other nearby casinos, he said. 

“I don’t think any one person saves downtown Las Vegas. It’s too big. It’s got too many challenges. Things that aren’t necessarily about infrastructure. It’s about social challenges. It’s got a lot of homeless there. A lot of real issues,” Smith said.

With that said, Hsieh didn't just dream for a new downtown Las Vegas he actually worked to build it. 

“He took a helluva shot," Smith said.

Diversifying the Economy: An Historical Perspective

In the 1980's, the entire country was in a recession. Las Vegas, thought by some to be recession-proof, was also hurting. Unemployment was high and tourism was low.

However, state and local leaders worked to get City Bank to set up its West Coast credit card operations in Las Vegas. The bank did and set up shop at what was once the end of Sahara Avenue.

The operation brought in thousands of jobs and more development to the area. Smith finds some hope in the story of City Bank.

“I think that’s a lesson to take forward. These are pretty dark days, but that’s a lesson for everybody that there are possibilities out there and the community is changing. It just needs to change at a higher pace,” he said.

He believes diversification of business in Las Vegas is the key to the city's future, but it likely to be hard-fought because other communities are trying to do the same thing. 

Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske  

“She is a Republican and proud one and she put up with more malarkey – to put it politely – from the Nevada GOP, from outside Republican influences. She took the heat for the state,” he said.

Smith said all Nevadans should be proud of how Cegavske handled the elections and the chaotic aftermath. She and other election officials got a shout-out from Christopher Krebs, the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in the United States Department of Homeland Security.

On "60 Minutes," he said election officials like Cegavske went out of their way to stand their ground and keep politics out of the election process. 


John L. Smith, contributor

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