Minimum wages have been a hot topic in the workforce and on ballots the past few years.
In 2015 Dan Price, CEO of Seattle-based Gravity Payments, upped the ante considerably when he slashed his $1 million compensation and announced a $70,000 minimum wage for his employees. The move wasn’t without controversy, both among those who thought his initial compensation was too high and among those who saw it as a kind of socialist wealth redistribution.
Price was just 19 in 2004 when he founded the credit and debit processing company from his Seattle Pacific University dorm room.
While still in high school Price had gotten a close-up look at the credit card business when he helped a business owner in his Idaho hometown.
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On Monday Price will speak at a lunch meeting of the Transportation Club of Tacoma.
The News Tribune recently interviewed Price via email. The answers have been edited for length.
Q: Two years after your minimum wage announcement, have you achieved what you wanted to do?
A: I did this first and foremost for our clients, but also for the Gravity Payments’ team who sacrifice so much to make our clients’ lives easier. I knew I needed to take a bold action instead of waiting around for someone else to do something. When employees are making less than a workable income, it’s distracting. Distracted team members make for a disengaged workforce. If an organization focuses on paying everybody a living wage, it will have a competitive advantage. Paying more results in less distraction, greater autonomy, and higher capability — all things leading to high levels of engagement, and ultimately better business outcomes.
Q: How many employees are now making the $70,000 wage?
A: Currently, we have 133 employees at Gravity Payments. Many of these team members were making, and continue to make, above $70,000. As of the day of the announcement, our minimum wage immediately jumped to $50,000, then, Dec. 31 of 2016, it was raised to $60,000. By Dec. 31 of this year, we will have fully implemented $70,000 as the minimum salary.
Q: Rush Limbaugh was quoted in various media calling you a socialist and, this year, Sarah Palin — or whoever runs her social media — threw more wood on the fire. Do you pay attention to criticism from the right?
A: We use it for motivation. Although we may sometimes disagree with Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin, that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in what they say. We try to find some of the insightful parts of what they say about us and use it to improve execution of our plan.
Q: Part of that recent criticism said you had to rent out your home to make ends meet. What’s the story?
A: I made some cutbacks to adjust to the lower salary, although it was more out of sensibility than necessity. I did list my house on Airbnb during the summer and stayed in the guest room at a friend’s house on those occasions when my house was being used. It was not because I couldn’t otherwise make ends meet, though I haven’t made this little amount of money since I was in my early 20s.
Q: How is your business doing, financially?
A: We have the luxury of seeing our greatest source of financial strength being from our connection to independent entrepreneurs and independent businesses and the numbers suggest those connections have never been stronger. Though, in the short term financial results ebb and flow, we’re doing well and on plan, however it is still early to declare victory or make too much of what we have achieved so far. Most importantly, we continue the mission upon which Gravity Payments was founded: to provide a fair and transparent credit card processing option to independent businesses.
What: Transportation Club of Tacoma monthly luncheon.
When: 11:30 a.m. Monday
Where: La Quinta Inn & Suites 1425 E 27th St. Tacoma.
Cost: $35 day of event, reservations required.