What Drives Zappos’ Tony Hsieh to Rebuild Downtown LV?

Tony Hsieh bounces from table to table inside the Downtown Cocktail Room, quizzing college students.

The students, mostly from East Coast universities, are competing for the opportunity to spend two years working with start-up companies downtown, learning the ins and outs of business.

The objective of this exercise: see if the students are the right fit for the tech-friendly urban environment Hsieh is trying to create.

Someone asks a student what crime he would commit if he could get away with it.

Hsieh volunteers an answer: a “Mission: Impossible”-style heist.

When it’s his turn to quiz the students, Hsieh asks more than one: “What misperception do people have about you?”

One says people think she’s a perfectionist. Another responds that he’s often viewed as more confident than he is.

This time, Hsieh doesn’t turn the question on himself.

By now all of Las Vegas knows the 38-year-old CEO of Zappos is intensely interested and invested in downtown. He is moving his company there. He’s using a chunk of his fortune — he’s worth nearly $400 million — in an attempt to help transform the area from a decaying afterthought to an incubator for things the city longs for most — new businesses and a sense of community.

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