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Joe Nocera

Tony Hsieh Showed Promise and Perils of Happiness

The former Zappos CEO, who died on Friday, set an example about corporate culture, both the good and the bad.

Goodwill ambassador.

Goodwill ambassador.

Photographer: Bryan Steffy/Getty Images

Tony Hsieh, the former Zappos.com chief executive officer who died on Friday from injuries suffered in a house fire, was an unusual — and unusually humane — corporate executive.

In 2009, after he grudgingly agreed to a buyout from Amazon.com Inc., Hsieh could have walked away from the online shoe seller an incredibly wealthy man — something many CEOs would have done. Instead, he negotiated a deal that gave Zappos a high degree of autonomy and stuck with the company for 11 more years, finally departing in August after leading the company for more than two decades.