I recently attended the Inc. 5000 conference (#Inc5000), an invitation only event for this year’s winners, for the 5000 fastest growing companies in the United States. Being surrounded by over 1,000 entrepreneurs for three days was a great reminder of why Amy Fowler Stadler and I started Lewis Fowler almost 14 years ago and have enjoyed the success that we have.
Additionally, it was a unique opportunity to observe and understand the different ways that companies are challenging traditional business models and assumptions.
Three business leaders in particular captured my attention.
1. Dan Price – Gravity Payments
First, there was Dan Price the founder of Gravity Payments who, to a large degree based on his Christian values and his observations of how distracting from work it is when an employee is struggling to make ends meet, decided to pay all of his employees a minimum wage of $70,000 per year.
When I first heard the story a few weeks before I heard Dan’s talk I thought to myself “this guy doesn’t understand business and economics – this can never work.” Interestingly though, Dan is implementing this initiative based on some hard data that he has accumulated over the last few years that shows a direct productivity improvement correlated to a minimum compensation level. He’s betting that the business will recoup the additional overhead costs in increased productivity.
Is he right? Time will tell.
Lots of people I spoke with were skeptical but if he is right, he could dramatically change our thinking about compensation practices.
2. Tony Hsieh - Zappos
Next, there was the low key and humble Tony Hsieh, CEO and founder of Zappos, who launched a social imperative for his company to change the entire dynamic of downtown Las Vegas when they decided to place their corporate headquarters in what had become an all too common blighted inner city neighborhood.
Tony invested $350M of his own money to fund a number of business initiatives to foster community and a place for people to live, work and play in close proximity to each other with the intent of fostering “accidental” (my term) innovation. It has completely transformed that area of the city.
Will it pay off for Zappos? Who knows?
But the fact that Tony is applying his entrepreneurial thinking, business skills and corporate goals to bigger societal problems is exciting and energizing to see. I can’t help but think that good things will come of it, both for his business and the community.
3. Daniel Lubetzky - KIND
Lastly, there was Daniel Lubetzky, the founder and CEO of KIND, whose corporate mission is to spread and celebrate kindness and encourage people to do kind acts for each other. Dan has spent almost his entire career as an entrepreneur with a mission to help people through businesses.
For example, PeaceWorks, a not-Only-for-profit® middle eastern food distributor that attempts to foster joint Arab Israeli cooperation to KIND that focuses on developing and selling snacks that are kind to your body. From Daniel’s personality you can tell that he deeply believes in what his companies are doing and their role in the larger community.
These were only three examples among many that really brought home to me the role that we have as entrepreneurs, business owners, managers and employees in our communities and the unique opportunity that we have to make our world a better place through our businesses.
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