RIP Tony Hsieh, a visionary with a huge heart

By Julie Castle

The world has lost a visionary. Tony Hsieh, the founder and former CEO of Zappos who passed away this weekend at 46, made a profound impact not just in the business world, where he transformed customer service into an art, but also in animal welfare, and to me personally.

In 2015 and 2016, Zappos partnered with Best Friends in an effort called Home for the Pawlidayz to get as many dogs and cats as possible adopted over Thanksgiving weekend, kicking off on Black Friday. On the biggest, most important shopping day of the year, Tony Hsieh wanted to promote homeless pets. And he wanted to go big. Over the course of those two weekends, Zappos sponsored 18,000 adoptions, helping to empty out entire animal shelters, and bringing happiness to a whole lot of people and pets at a time when everyone else was pushing retail sales.

Tony saw the bigger picture — that when you go all in, and prioritize doing good and promoting happiness, people will rally around you. He led with this philosophy at Zappos, where he originated a policy called “The Offer,” in which Zappos would essentially offer to pay any new employees to leave should they so desire. It wasn’t that he wanted employees to leave, it was that he wanted employees to want to stay. To be all in, and to be happy.

Tony’s unique, employee-centric policies as a CEO have helped to shape my point of view, especially during difficult times like the one we’re all facing now with COVID-19. I was fully exposed to the Zappos culture during the Pawlidayz partnership, and it was a game changer for me. (If you’re looking to open your mind about leadership, management or just being a better human, read Tony’s book, Delivering Happiness.)

When someone asked him what Zappos sold, you would expect him to say that it was an online shoe retailer. But no, he would say that Zappos was a customer service company that sold shoes. That really struck me, as did his commitment to purchase and revitalize parts of old town Las Vegas, where Zappos was located, to encourage cool businesses and reshape the community vibe and culture to attract top talent.

Simply put, the man was a genius.

Genius. For the way he broke every rule and reimagined putting people first (customers and employees).

Genius. For the completely unique and arguably best company culture in America.

Genius. For putting such an emphasis on building a brand — and building it through experience.

Genius. For putting happiness first.

Genius. For seeing that all of the above absolutely needed to be connected in order to work.

Connection was Tony’s gift and an important factor in everything we do. For example, collaboration is proving to be the key to moving toward no-kill nationwide and creating a blueprint for a better future for every community and its companion animals. Only by working together can we Save Them All.

Thank you, Tony, for all you gave during your too-short life. Your genius will live on and continue to be an inspiration to me and many others every day.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society