Tony Hsieh: We never know what tomorrow will bring

Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune.

Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune

Some people teach us much by their living and some by their dying. Tony Hsieh did both. Although I obviously knew of Tony, I also knew Tony personally. I’d hardly call myself one of his friends, but the few times I interacted with him made me feel like one of his friendly acquaintances.
I had the opportunity to see his employees at work and to learn what they thought about his unconventional way of letting them be who they were even while they did their work. It resonated with me, since I always felt that the more you can bring some of who you are into your workplace — instead of working in the cookie-cutter style and even
sterile type of atmosphere of so many workplaces — the better you could do your job. Obviously it worked for Tony Hsieh’s employees. And it worked for me over the years.
But this column is going to be more about the lessons that people teach us more than how they operate their business or make their money. Yes, Tony was unconventional, but he became a financial success either in spite of that or because of it. Yet what kind of a man was he? I haven’t heard any stories about his being unkind or rude or unfair. He didn’t seem to fear what came next, and boldly did what he had to do; I think his various success stories speak for themselves.
But we can all agree that things are not always the way they seem, although sometimes they are.
Perhaps being so wealthy at an early age changed him in some ways, or made him go down paths he otherwise wouldn’t have chosen, but we will never know how he would have been if that wealth did not come to him so soon. Yet even as a young man of such remarkable wealth, generosity was his middle name. Sharing seemed to be his thing, and being of
service to his fellowman through his sharing and his generosity was his way of life, as far as I could tell.
So far all good lessons for any of us. Be generous. Spread your wealth around to help others in ways that you can, and improve the surroundings of your community by being of service to others, and in his case, by helping others to help themselves to improve not only their own lives, but the lives of those around them and beyond.
But sad to say, sometimes and often it could be the last act of a person’s life that becomes the memory point. Many famous people are remembered for their last act or the one thing that stands out above and beyond all the good they did, like the suicide (or even presumed suicide) of Marilyn Monroe, of Anthony Bordain, of Robin Williams; or
even the discovery of something incredibly hard to accept and/or forgive in the life of some one who brought us hours of enjoyment, like Bill Cosby.
But we might never know the reasons behind some of the behaviors that lead people to do what they do. Rock stars and actors commit suicide far too often. No amount of fame and money could take away their depression. Some famous or well known individuals indulge in somewhat reckless behavior and may believe it will never hurt them. Some may
think of themselves as invincible and throw caution to the wind because of who they are. Some, sadly, push the envelope, as they say, looking for bigger or greater thrills. And since they can afford it, they ask themselves, “Why not?” They probably would choose to not know the answer to that question.
Regarding Tony Hsieh, at this writing we don’t really know the full story. Maybe he did have both an alcohol and a drug habit. Maybe such habits were long-standing or maybe they were more recent, but would his friends say such a thing about him if it weren’t true? Chances are, if indeed it was true, those friends tried to make him see the consequences of his behavior and were ignored. Nobody really wants to be told what he can’t or shouldn’t do, even when it’s a small thing.
And apparently Tony’s habits were a much bigger thing and his friends might have been looking ahead to the possible dangers of combining the nitrous oxide and the vodka, perhaps foreseeing the disaster that might lie ahead.
What, then, would his death teach us? You’re never too rich, too popular, or too well-liked in your community to do foolish things?
Even if you are rich, popular or well-liked, you may still feel unfulfilled and search for something to fill that gap? If one does not have someone to love, or someone who loves you, it again leaves a void that must be filled. I do not know if Tony did love someone, but having never married by the age of 46 makes one wonder.
Perhaps his “secret” life was not so really different from what many of us go through. Didn’t he himself say that things are never as bad or as good as they seem? In retrospect, we can believe that he was talking about himself, just as we could say that about ourselves. One might also wonder if he wanted others to be happy because he had a hard time finding happiness for himself.
A friend of our family recently committed suicide. In his case, things were far worse than they seemed, and were not good at all, on any level. But the important thing to know, as in things we learn when someone dies, is that he contributed greatly to his own misery. While it looked like he only lost his job, which led to losing his ability
to pay his rent, which caused him to lose his house and lose his ability to buy food, I discovered that he could have had another good job, even though his health was by this time very poor, but by careless talk, he talked himself out of it. And when the police came to the house where he chose to end it all, they discovered heroin and hard liquor in his car, bought with money that could have been spent on food. So the combination of everything he did led to his poor
health and his poor self-image, and his depths of despair. But the point is, he chose drugs and alcohol as a way to “improve” his life or fill a void, just as Tony obviously did.
Whatever was wrong in his life could never have been made better by drugs and alcohol. And that goes for whether one is rich or poor, popular or lonely. Needing something to fill a void is common. But one’s choices make the difference. Tony very likely did not intend for that horrible explosion and fire to happen; I doubt very much if he would ever choose such a way to go if ever such a thought would have entered his mind. And chances are, whatever he was doing in that shed he had done before with no noticeable consequences. So it wouldn’t be strange for his friends (or even one friend) to know about it. His choice to combine them in some way, if indeed that is what is discoved when the toxicology report is made public, will be telling.
Stories always seem to have two sides: the story that comes out in the paper (or online), and then, as Paul Harvey always used to say, “the rest of the story.” We must all wait to find out what that is, but we can always — no matter what — appreciate all Tony Hsieh did while alive and hope that his family and friends find the strength to get through the devastation of his death.
May he finally fill that void in the next life.
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Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at

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