BUSINESS

Seattle CEO to cut his pay, give every employee a minimum salary of $70,000

04/15/2015 10:30 EDT | Updated 06/26/2015 03:59 EDT
SEATTLE - A Seattle CEO who announced that he's giving himself a drastic pay cut to help cover the cost of big raises for his employees didn't just make those workers happy.

He's already gained new customers, too.

"We've definitely gained a handful of customers in the last day or two," said Stefan Bennett, a customer relations manager at Gravity Payments, a credit card payment processing firm. "We're showing people you can run a good company, and you can pay people fairly, and it can be profitable."

Dan Price, chief executive of the company, stunned his 100-plus workers on Monday when he told them he was cutting his roughly $1 million salary to $70,000 and using company profits to ensure that everyone there would earn at least that much within three years.

For some workers, the increase will more than double their pay. One 21-year-old mother said she'll buy a house.

At a time of increasing anger nationally over the enormous gap between the pay of top executives and their employees, the announcement received immense attention. But corporate governance professor David Larcker of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business said it's unclear if Price's unusual gesture will start a trend.

"It's an alternative way to think about a tough problem, and I give these guys a lot of credit for laying it out there," Larcker said. "Whether this would scale to a bigger organization, it's hard to know. But it's clever, it's interesting and it's fun to think about."

Washington state already has the nation's highest minimum wage at $9.47 an hour, and earlier this month Seattle's minimum wage law went into effect. It will eventually raise base hourly pay to $15.

Labour unions and workers in the Seattle area on Wednesday joined national protests for better pay. Drivers for Uber and Lyft — the app-based car-hailing services — gathered in Seattle, while airport workers rallied at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. In Seattle, police arrested 21 demonstrators who opted for civil disobedience to dramatize their point, refusing to move out of an intersection at the conclusion of their march.

Gravity's CEO launched the company from his dorm room at Seattle Pacific University when he was just 19. He's long taken a progressive approach that included adopting a policy allowing his workers to take unlimited paid vacation after their first year.

"I think this is just what everyone deserves," Price told workers in a video of Monday's announcement released by the company.

But he also acknowledged it won't be easy: The increased pay will eat into at least half the company's profits, he said, and he has no plans to simply raise rates on clients.

"It's up to us to find a way to make it work," he said.

Bennett, 28, went to college with Price and has worked for Gravity since graduation. He said he was already happy to work for a company that treats its employees and customers well in what he otherwise considers a predatory industry. For him, the raise will amount to about $10,000.

"I don't care as much about the money," he said. "But if I look at my colleagues, and what they talk about on a day-to-day basis and what their concerns are — just looking at their faces when Dan announced the pay increase, it was pretty phenomenal."