In this time of unprecedented profit-taking by gigantic corporations, the divide between executive compensation and that of the folks that do the actual work is greater than it has ever been. There are few voices that make reasoned arguments against such glutinous fiscal practices. Even fewer still are executives actually doing something to counteract this trend.
The boldest step towards income equality is being made by Seattle-based entrepreneur, Dan Price. Dan has garnered word-wide recognition for his unprecedented decision to institute a $70,000 annual minimum wage for all of the employees of his payment processing firm, Gravity Payments. In so doing, Dan has declared that the social responsibility to provide a living wage to his workers trumps the need to feed an insatiable desire to hoard ever-increasing profit.
I had the great pleasure to meet Dan after his talk at the LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (#lifeisbeautiful) festival in Las Vegas this weekend. He explained how the employees of his firm rallied behind him a few years ago as he slowly began to return a greater share of the profits to the employees who worked so hard to help create them. He noted that, with each incremental increase in wage, a commensurate increase in productivity (and profit) was achieved. Then Dan told of a singular moment wherein he realized that the incredible wealth he had amassed was enough to fully satisfy his needs (and even some lofty desires) for the rest of his life, while the very folks that he counted on to generate these tremendous profits did not enjoy any sense of financial security (even with the incremental increases he had already made).
With this, he announced a bold plan to phase in wage increases that elevated every employee of his firm to a minimum annual salary of $70,000. Dan acknowledged that his decision was extreme and that such a move would likely bankrupt most companies. He did not suggest that every employee in every company should be entitled to a $70,000 minimum wage. His decision, however, is a call to executives to re-examine the prevailing wisdom that leans toward extracting the greatest profit (most often) at the expense of their workers for the purposes of ingratiating shareholders and showering windfall bonuses upon the executives.
To me, the appeal of this story is the debate it evokes relating to the Golden Rule and its place in business. Moreover, what, if any, responsibility do corporations (and the executives that control them) bear for the health and welfare of the workers that make their businesses run? The answers to these lofty questions notwithstanding, I admire Dan Price for having literally put his money (to the tune of $70k) where his mouth is.