Tony Hsieh, the tech entrepreneur and founder of Zappos.com–a leading voice in rethinking “work” and the balance of work and play who is also changing the face of downtown Las Vegas–has been announced by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) as the closing keynote speaker at the AIA National Convention at McCormick Place in Chicago, June 26-28. Hsieh is scheduled to speak on Saturday afternoon, June 28, in the same general session in which the AIA will posthumously honor Julia Morgan with the 2014 AIA Gold Medal.
I am honored to be the chair of the advisory committee for this 2014 AIA National Convention, and here is my story on the previously announced keynote speakers.
The 40-year-old Hsieh graduated from Harvard with a degree in computer science, and is the founding CEO of the online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos. While Amazon acquired Zappos in 2009 for approximately $1.2 billion, Hsieh has stayed on as the Zappos CEO. Hsieh moved his Zappos operation from Henderson, Nevada, to Las Vegas, in 2013, and the headquarters is now in the former Las Vegas City Hall that underwent an extensive $48 million renovation.
Hsieh initiated the Downtown Project in Las Vegas, in part with more than $350 million of his own money, to breath new life into the older center of the city. Of the $350 million, $200 million is invested in real estate, $50 million in small businesses, $50 million in education, and $50 million in tech startups through the VegasTech Fund. Focusing more on creating a place for tech employees to live and work, rather than on tourism, Hsieh is helping make Las Vegas a livable community for the 21st century. Downtown Project is still in early stages, but it has already created an estimated 500-plus jobs and is striving to create the coworking capital of the world within the next five years. Sectors targeted for the Downtown Project, besides technology, include fashion, music, art, and other cultural endeavors.
Hsieh promises to inspire the AIA Convention attendees by relating how the 21st century tech economy can have a positive influence on the built environment in cities. It’s a new economy that builds upon existing infrastructure of people and place for reinvigorated communities.