The Best Leaders Deliver Happiness

Tony Hsieh’s philosophy was summed up in the book “Delivering Happiness.” Zappos’ legendary customer service made Zappos a $1.2 billion company.

There was shocking news over the Thanksgiving weekend for those of us who are fans of great entrepreneurs.

Tony Hsieh, (pronounced shay) the visionary founder of Zappos and the driving force behind The Downtown Project in Las Vegas, was dead at the young age of 46. Mr. Hsieh succumbed to injuries suffered in a house fire.

Zappos was an early e-commerce success story selling shoes by the truckloads until Amazon came along and scooped up the company for $1.2 billion in 2009.

Hsieh took his fortune and wrote one of the best business books ever “Delivering Happiness” which preached the Zappos philosophy of exceptional customer service. His book and business model influenced scores of entrepreneurs then he pivoted to Las Vegas where he bought a slew of real estate in the old moribund downtown and set about trying to transform the place.

I’ve been following those efforts for years and while the results have met with mixed reviews I deeply admired his vision and audacity.

Transformation is a risky venture. Efforts often fall short but without these special people willing to take risks and buck conventional wisdom change won’t happen.

Within reason, we ought to be encouraging and where possible helping these pioneers who see potential where others see blight.

Hsieh took a boring category (shoes) and created a culture that revolutionized customer service and how to buy a product.

When it came to downtown revitalization, he spent his money and time trying to lure talent and enterprise to a part of Las Vegas long ago written off.  The Downtown Project is a $350 million investment: $200 million for real estate, $50 million for tech startups, $50 million for small businesses and $50 million for education, arts and culture.

Noted urban journalist Aaron Renn was a fan of the ambitious effort.

“While I had some critiques of the downtown project, his vision to remake the unbelievably bleak downtown Las Vegas into a hub of creativity was audacity on steroids,” Renn wrote.  “ Again, most cities could only dream of having someone with that kind of vision and willingness to attempt the impossible.”

Those “someone’s” are developer/entrepreneurs and I think we make a big mistake when we paint with a broad brush and write them all off as rapacious enemies we must instinctively fight.

As has been noted many times in this space, there are good developers and there are bad ones. We benefit when we can distinguish between the two.

Good developers transform communities. They create places and jobs and they generate vibrancy while growing the tax base.

If we engage them early, we can shape development and make sure projects respect the style and aesthetics of the community. It can be done. But only if we elevate the conversation and work with people not on them.


Attracting good developers to your city is critical of you want to succeed. Avoiding bad ones is equally important.

As for Hsieh, his model called for investing in tech companies in exchange for their promise to relocate to Las Vegas.

He also recruited restaurants, coffee shops and other cool businesses to downtown Las Vegas so that the tech workers who moved there would enjoy a good quality of life.

I thought his approach was fascinating because it tried to be holistic.

He didn’t just build, lease to anyone who showed up and then abandon the place. He curated and stayed around.

He took a long term view and did a huge amount of marketing to promote the vision. He was an evangelist for an old part of Vegas that had been written off as the focus shifted to The Strip.

In more than 30 years of watching local development trends I’ve seen a wide range of development philosophies.

There were those who settled in and did multiple projects while making it a point to give back to the community through service and philanthropy and there were those who acted like strip miners extracting value with little regard to giving back. We make a mistake if we conflate the two types. The former is what you want to attract and nurture, the latter is what you want to avoid.

It’s easy to distinguish who’s who.

Tony Hsieh was the kind of investor you want to attract. Losing him at a young age is tragic.

But he sets an example for those of us who care about our local communities and economies.

There is an opportunity to find and or encourage developers to act as curators to bring desirable uses to our cities.

There is also an opportunity to elevate the conversation around development. The current discourse doesn’t serve anyone and will chase away the visionaries we need to keep our cities vibrant and healthy.



Delray Beach lost two community leaders in recent days who will be long remembered for their contributions.

Nadine Hart was a long time community leader, educator and former chair of the TED Center, a local business incubator. She was a guiding light for generations of Delray residents. She was also known for having mentored hundreds of young women in Delray.  She will be greatly missed.

John Ingles was a legendary local tennis coach who quietly added immense value to Delray’s  tennis community. “Jingles” as he was affectionately known, was a kind man and a trusted advisor for anyone interested in learning about tennis’ potential in Delray. Rest In Peace my friend.

On a happier note, congratulations to Jeffrey Costello who left for the U.S. Marine Corps over the weekend. Jeffrey grew up next store to us in Delray Lakes and has always been a great young man. He was in Junior ROTC at Atlantic High School and has been focused on a military career for quite some time. He’s the pride of our neighborhood and we will be praying for his safety and success.



Division or Collaboration It’s a Choice

We are at the point in the campaign for commission seats in Delray Beach where the word bully gets thrown around.

So this post is about bullying. And how to recognize who the real bullies are; because often bullies accuse others of being bullies when you stand up to them.

I’m not talking about the school yard kind, but adult bullying. Although there are similarities.

When I was a young man, I thought bullying was a pathology that ended in junior high.

Then I moved to Delray and got involved in local politics.

When you enter the arena, you can count on meeting the bullies in your town. I’m not talking about the normal back and forth of debate on the issues or about people who just don’t like what you’re peddling.

I’m talking about folks who wake up and decide to make you their hobby.

It’s usually not about policy or ideas—although occasionally how you vote on a single issue can trigger abuse. But more often, it’s personal; like in personal destruction.

I’ve encountered a few of these charmers in my adult life. And I’ve seen others experience them as well.

It comes with the territory.

If you want to avoid the bullies–don’t say anything and don’t do anything. Don’t support a candidate, don’t ever take a side on an issue or even be seen with anyone who does.

But if you do, you can count on somebody questioning your motives, your character, your friends, your livelihood and your ethics. Check that: they won’t question you they will judge you and convict you. And the rub is they often don’t know you.





It has nothing to do with likability or whether you’re a nice person.

For instance, even the Dalai Lama has detractors.

I strive to be a decent guy. I try to be polite and courteous. I pick up my share of checks and I love animals. I even recycle.

But I also have opinions. I like to express them. And the last time I checked, that’s still guaranteed by our First Amendment. Here’s a smattering of opinions that have earned me some wrath over the years.

I don’t get hives over festivals, my life isn’t ruined if the bridge goes up and I don’t see all developers as the local version of Freddy Krueger. Some yes, but not all. I have (or at least had) faith in our Land Development Regulations and I’m a believer in the long time community vision for Delray Beach. I was there when it was shaped by a wide range of local stakeholders who have given a great deal to Delray Beach and continue to serve the community.

Heck, I even have civic pride. (I even use the word heck not the pejorative alternative).

I think this community came together and did some amazing things over the years. I don’t believe that Delray was ruined, overdeveloped or in need of being taken back. In fact, I think it was saved by the very people who forged the vision and made it happen—and that includes developers, business people, neighborhood leaders, the CRA, the DDA, the Chamber of Commerce, festival producers, non-profit leaders, police officers, firefighters and city staff. It really does take a village.

That’s my opinion and I’m entitled to it. Sorry bullies, that’s just the way it is.

I also understand that not everybody embraces the same things that I do. I think that the strategy employed by Delray created a remarkable place and a whole lot of value and quality of life. I think it’s a sustainable strategy. But I understand that some of the changes and policies are not to everyone’s liking. The question is whether we can respectfully disagree. And that’s where we can find both the challenge and the opportunity.

Can you disagree with a bully and not be attacked? Or can we find a way to work together, find compromise and at times agree to disagree knowing there will be issues down the road where opponents on one issue can actually help each other?

Here’s why I prefer the latter to the bully model; which promotes division and dysfunction.

In my experience, the typical “my way or the highway” civic bully isn’t interested in getting to know you or hearing about the rule of law, the principles of economic development or what might make a city sustainable. In their closed minds, you’re wrong and you’re evil. See, it’s not about policy it’s about their need to discredit and bash you.

Many of the people I’ve seen bullied have reached out to those who have judged them in an effort to clear the air, find a way forward, listen to the grievances and answer questions. They seek common ground–after all we’re  neighbors and we might see each other at Caffe Luna Rosa or in the hot sauce aisle of Publix. But their entreaties are almost always rebuffed.


Because it’s easy to demonize someone you don’t know. It’s harder to hurl hate and lie about someone you’ve looked in the eye and learned something about.

You may find that they have kids, love animals, enjoy music, coach baseball and have a sense of humor. You may even figure out that they actually believe in what their selling and that they are not bought and paid for. But that narrative won’t work for the bully. If you are a real person it might make it harder to go back on social media and beat you up.

So while bullying and negativity seems to be a fact of life these days and some of it is so crazy and false as to be laughable–the toxicity it produces isn’t funny. In fact, it’s ruinous.

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve seen some amazing things happen here.

A dead downtown revived.

A land trust formed.

Have you seen the homes they’ve built? These are real families in real neighborhoods once neglected and now beginning to show some signs of improvement.

We’ve seen the southwest plan come to life. Oh, not all of it, but a great deal with more to come. (But only if we stop the endless bickering and get back to work).

We’ve seen schools conceived and built from the commitment shown at community meetings and the passion of two members of the Delray Beach Police Department.

We’ve see a cultural center rise from the ruins of a neglected old school.

And a library built on West Atlantic when a bully from my day told us it would never work if you put it “out there with those people.” I kid you not, that was actually said. We built it anyway. And he’s as miserable as ever.

He was told–politely–to pound sand. PS he’s still out there peddling hate, lies and conspiracy theories.

I can go on.

I’m a firm believer that many amazing things that occurred could not have happened today because the culture has become toxic. And toxicity is fatal to progress.

And friends, we had better start caring about culture.

Because It’s everything.

If it doesn’t get better –and trust me it needs help– the community is at risk.

So how bad is it? Here’s an example. There are many.

A few weeks back, a group of people came together and launched an effort to fight back against the nastiness and negativity by forming a group called Better Delray. Almost immediately it was assailed by a small group who questioned (sorry proclaimed) Better Delray’s motives, hidden agendas etc.

Really…they did. And they are so wrong. And they drew their conclusions based on what?


Nobody sat down and talked. There were no questions asked, but conclusions were drawn based on exactly nothing but personalities.

But there is a lightbulb going on around town. People are finally getting tired of the negativity, the endless fighting, the attempts to muzzle and intimidate. The fact that issues hang around for years because “leadership” is too busy fighting each other and majoring in the minor.

Thank goodness there’s an awakening taking place.

Because we need you to get angry.

We need you to understand the stakes.

We need you…

To call it out.

To demand civility.

To volunteer.

To vote.

Yes, vote. In a local election. Because it’s important and so few of us do. Less people show up these days than in 1990 despite a much larger population. So as we inch toward the March 14 election…

Seek out the positive–reject the toxic. Reject those who manufacture division.

I’ve noticed a few common themes in my 30 years here.

If you want to see progress…

Support those who go to work for this town. Put your faith and your trust in those who are involved over those who sit back and criticize and (mis) judge.

My best friends in Delray Beach are the men and women who have rolled up their sleeves and went to work on behalf of this community.

They’ve helped children, created jobs, supported the arts and charities, volunteered and put skin in the game, in short they’ve cared. Sometimes so much it hurts. A few are even developers…gasp.

But whenever I look around I never see the critics. I never see the bullies. They are AWOL.

When it comes time to pitch in, they are absent. When it comes time to build they can’t be found. But they are always there when it’s time to criticize. They are always ready to judge, condemn, label, divide and threaten. Always.

They never miss an opportunity and when necessary they create things to whine about.

None of them ever bother to get to know those who have been and are involved.

But somehow they know they’re dishonest, they know they’re self-serving, they know they are shills.

Only they’re not.

And we are not going away. It’s our town too.

Many are tired of the bickering, the disrespect of the people, events and organizations that built this town, the constant turnover of senior staff, the endless lawsuits, the insults of those looking to invest here, the lies about the CRA, the embarrassing behavior of so-called leaders, the bullying of event producers, the demonizing of people in recovery and those trying to help them and the lack of progress on important issues.

They were left a 40 point lead and they are blowing it. I’m willing to say it, because I love this city.

Call me a shill, label me, threaten my friends and our businesses.

But a great many who are involved in the major institutions in our town are dispirited. Many are scared and won’t speak out for fear of retribution.

They shouldn’t be. Something is seriously wrong if they are.

We must come together because we have been driven apart. By people who have not given back.

We must replace division with collaboration.

And that’s why I am  supporting Jim Chard for Seat 2 and Shirley Johnson for Seat 4.

And I’ll tell you why and what I see is at stake in my next post.