Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday and I was planning to share a message about our “Resiliency” themed holiday campaign, and to share more stories about the resiliency that our amazing students and staff members have displayed this year.  But I would like to make a slight pivot, if I may, and instead to share a brief message in homage to the late Tony Hsieh.  You see, Tony was a role model of mine and I’m not sure if Ryan Banks Academy would be here without him.

Tony is best known for the 20 years he spent as CEO of Zappos, a role that he retired from just a few months ago.  If you Google photos of Tony, you’ll find photos of him hobnobbing with celebrities like Richard Branson but just as many of him decked out in a head to toe animal costume, or wearing something else so silly it would seem out of place on any other corporate CEO.   He’s known as being one of most brilliant minds and creative thinkers of our generation, and yet what I’ve always admired in Tony were the moments before the success came.

Years ago, I read Tony’s book Delivering Happiness and there is a moment in that book that directly impacted my life.  Zappos was about to go broke – they were down to just two weeks of cash – and it coincided with a trip he already had booked with a friend to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  In his book, Tony details how brutal the climb was, and how miserable he was much of the trek while he thought about Zappos and wondered what the fate would be for his company that was in peril.  He notes that he desperately wanted to turn back – and had he been alone he would have – but he was accompanied by a friend and they kept one another going toward the summit.  And yet they ascended the mountain and made it to the top, where the only thing he could think was, “Anything is possible.”

I happened to read that passage years ago – before RBA was open, before we had students, before we had donors, before we had outcomes to show for our success – back when it was a very tiny team of us endeavoring to do something pretty audacious and that some people thought would not be possible.  I’ve read and re-read Tony’s recount of the Mt. Kilimanjaro climb over and over, and it never fails to inspire me toward the vision ahead.

Years later, after reading about Tony’s work to revitalize Downtown last Vegas (a vision that aligned with our vision to build an RBA living and learning community), I reached out to him on a whim and ended up flying to meet with him and some of his colleagues, including the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend a weekend living in a tiny house in the Airstream park in Las Vegas where Tony lived with a couple dozen other artists and entrepreneurs.  It’s a rare experience for a person to meet their role models, and I’m so lucky that I had the chance to meet one of mine.  I am forever grateful for the chance to learn from a man who believes so mightily in the power of doing audacious things.

Friends, anything is possible. Tony knew it, and just look what he was able to create.  Building a boarding school is no easy feat, and this is certainly our version of Kilimanjaro, if you will.  We are attempting to quite literally ‘go where no man has gone before’.  And yet we know that it takes risking big to make magic happen, and we couldn’t be more thankful for you for coming along this ride with us.

Many thanks,

Val Groth
Founder & CEO
Ryan Banks Academy

In memory of Tony Hsieh (December 12, 1973 – November 27, 2020)