5 questions with Kirsten Grind, co-author of ‘Happy at Any Cost,’ about former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh

“Happy at Any Cost: The Revolutionary Vision and Fatal Quest of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh” — published March 15 by Simon & Schuster — takes a look at the rise and fall of the beloved former CEO of the online shoe and clothing company Zappos.

It’s written by Kirsten Grind and Katherine Sayre. The Library Journal, in writing about the book, said it “focuses on a flawed man struggling to make happiness part of his business and his life. … Beyond their discussion of Hsieh’s tragic death and legacy, Grind and Sayre also provide insight on the larger issue of mental illness and addiction hidden under Silicon Valley’s sunny surface.”

Grind, who grew up in Encinitas and is now a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, took some time to talk about the book.

Q: How did “Happy at Any Cost” come to be?

A: Tony Hsieh was found in a burning shed in Connecticut in November 2020, thousands of thousands from his home in Las Vegas, and he later died of smoke inhalation. He was only 46. Right away at The Wall Street Journal, where I work, we knew there was something very strange going on — how could something like this happen to a super successful, beloved entrepreneur? My co-author Katherine Sayre and I immediately began to investigate.

Q: How difficult was it to paint a picture of Tony Hsieh’s life after his tragic death?

A: It was really, really hard. The most difficult thing was that Tony, like many successful people, had built up this public image that was very challenging to get underneath. It took us awhile to get his close friends from him to trust us enough to reveal what was really going on — his mental health issues from him and his alcohol and drug abuse from him. We also relied extensively on public records and photos and documents from sources.

Authors Kirsten Grind (left) and Katherine Sayre, who co-wrote “Happy at Any Cost: The Revolutionary Vision and Fatal Quest of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.”

(Courtesy photos)

Q: Tell us about the San Diego connection.

A: There are two! The first is that the singer Jewel figures prominently in this book, as a good friend of Tony Hsieh’s, who tried unsuccessfully to save him in the end. When Jewel was a homeless folk singer in the 1990s, she played in coffee shops around San Diego, including one I used to go to. And that is the second connection — I am a San Diego native, and I grew up in Encinitas, and was the first graduating class of San Dieguito High School Academy. My whole family still lives there, although now I’m in the Bay Area.

Q: What was the most challenging part of working on this book?

A: It was really heartbreaking reporting. Tony was such a generous, good person and an inspirational business leader and entrepreneur, and to see how a group of people took advantage of him and his $1 billion fortune was hard to research and write about.

Q: The most rewarding?

A: I think we really hope that his story will help people. Tony did not like to address his own mental health issues and wanted to only focus on finding and spreading happiness, and I think our wish is that someone reads his story about him and realizes the problems with that approach. Trying to get out that message has been rewarding.

“Happy at Any Cost: The Revolutionary Vision and Fatal Quest of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh” by Kirsten Grind and Katherine Sayre (Simon & Schuster, 2022; 320 pages)

Grind will make an appearance at Warwick’s on Wednesday, April 13, at 7:30 pm The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are required. For more information, visit warwicks.com/event/grind-2022

Kirsten Grind, one of the authors of “Happy at Any Cost,” about former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, is making an appearance at Warwick’s on April 13, 2022.

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