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Why this CEO is worth almost $1B and lives in a trailer park

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 7/25/2015 Peter Holley
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With a net worth of $840 million, Tony Hsieh could have a Caribbean island or a palatial estate overlooking an ocean vista all to himself.

Instead, the Zappos.com chief executive has set down roots in a less exclusive locale: a dusty Las Vegas trailer park.

“I see my neighbors a lot more now than I did when living in a house in the suburbs or living in an apartment building,” he told the Las Vegas Review Journal in January.

To be fair, he owns the 1-acre park, which is home to around 30 silver Airstreams that Hsieh rents out to visiting computer coders, according to a recent profile of the 41-year-old in the New York Times.

Hsieh -- the son of Taiwanese immigrants and a graduate of Harvard -- relocated to the trailer park from his "sprawling condominium on the 23rd floor of a luxury apartment building" and brought his pet alpaca along with him, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal.

He named the community "Llamapolis," according to the Times. It's worth noting that -- while resembling a small llama in appearance -- alpacas and llamas are entirely different creatures. (Though he's fond of llamas, Hsieh maintains alpacas are friendlier.)

A 2013 model of the 200-square-foot trailers retail for around $48,000. According to Las Vegas Weekly:

Inside, the Airstreams are sleek and high-tech, with wood paneling, stainless-steel appliances, a Bluetooth stereo and two TVs.
- Las Vegas Locally (@LasVegasLocally) January 4, 2015
- Susie Blackmon (@SusieBlackmon) July 20, 2015

While unconventional, the chief executive's move didn't come as a surprise to those who know him. Hsieh is a notoriously frugal chief executive, one who works for $36,000 a year in exchange for the autonomy to run Zappos on his own terms, according to the Times.

"Money is just a way for Tony to get to his endgame," Erik Moore, a Zappos investor, told Business Insider. "Money just doesn't matter to him. If he only had a million dollars left, he'd spend $999,999 to make Vegas work. He would be just as happy with a dollar in the bank and being around people he cares about and care about him."

Hsieh told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the community was inspired by the chance encounters and randomness of the Burning Man festival. He also described the park as an "urban camping experience with everyone sharing the world's largest living room (which has a community kitchen and campfires).”

Beyond the interactive fun, Llamapolis is also an experiment for the chief executive.

"We’ve talked about possibly one day building the world’s largest Airstream hotel and/or residence to provide a unique hotel/living experience in downtown Vegas,” Hsieh told the Review-Journal in an email. “Part of the goal of the living experiment is to figure out what amenities and elements would make it a fun and memorable experience.”

<p>Zappos.com chief executive Tony Hsieh has set down roots in a less exclusive locale: a dusty Las Vegas trailer park.</p>© The Washington Post

Zappos.com chief executive Tony Hsieh has set down roots in a less exclusive locale: a dusty Las Vegas trailer park.

The living experiment also appears to be a residential extension of "Holacracy," a management philosophy Hsieh has implemented at Zappos that aims to democratize power in the workplace by removing traditional hierarchies. Like his experimental living situation, a hallmark of "Holacracy" is self-organization, team-work and localized decision making.

There are few rules in free-wheeling Llamapolis, but Hsieh told Las Vegas Weekly that, if there was a code of ethics, it would be the following: People contribute more to the community than they take. That could mean cooking for one's neighbors or playing music to enhance the ambiance.

Now that everyone's together, after all, they might as well take advantage of each other's company.

"For me, experiences are more meaningful than stuff,” he says. “I have way more experiences here at Airstream.”

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