business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

There was a wonderful story in the Seattle Times over the weekend about how John Yokoyama, the longtime owner of the Pike Place Fish Market - the shop that “is famous for its team of mongers tossing customers’ selections from the ice-packed displays at the front to the scales in the back” - has sold the business to four of his employees.

That business, the Times writes, “has become one of Seattle’s most well-known landmarks, drawing thousands of visitors a day during peak summer months and serving as the backdrop to countless selfies.”

According to the story, “the foursome did not disclose what they paid for the shop, but Yokoyama, who bought the business from its founder for $3,500 in 1965, said he worked with ‘the kids’ to make the purchase possible.” (The “kids” are in their forties and fifties. Age is relative.)

The fish tossing, the Times writes, was not always part of the business plan. In fact, it only came about when the business was close to bankruptcy, and Yokoyama and his employees - helped along by a consultant - determined that they had to come up with something that would make the act of selling fish more memorable.

At the same time, the story says, Yokoyama had to change the way he led and managed his people. “I was a grumpy, stupid young buck,” he says. “I had to transition myself from a yelling, screaming dictator tyrant who my employees didn’t like very much into someone who cares about people and is committed to being in a loving partnership with my employees, our customers and the world.”

“He could have sold it to just about anyone, but he went out of his way to sell it to us,” says Ryan Reese, one of the new owners. “The city is changing so fast, it’s an honor to be part of a small, 1,000-square-foot legacy that makes this city special.”

To me, this alone is an Eye-Opener … it heartwarming to know that Yokoyama, who probably could’ve gotten a higher price and better terms elsewhere, decided that the city, the business and its customers would be better served by having longtime employees owning the place and having skin in the game.

This is one step beyond what was described in a Wall Street Journal story over the weekend, about how a number of companies, facing a tightening labor market and a limited number of ways to attract employees, have decided that handing out stock to rank-and-file employees is one way to differentiate themselves.

There is, the story says, “evidence that offering lower-level workers a modest amount of restricted stock is good for the bottom line because it generates loyalty … A recent study by the National Center for Employee Ownership that an index of 28 companies offering “broad-based” equity options—including stock for retirement plans and grants—outperformed the S&P 500 by nearly a two-to-one margin over the past year. The NCEO, a non-profit based in Oakland, Calif., estimates workers who make less than $30,000 and get equity in their company have 11% longer median job tenures than those without.”

Employees with skin in the game being better, more loyal employees?

Now that’s what I call an Eye-Opener.
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