Everything I need to know I learned selling shoes in high school. OK, maybe not everything. But one important lesson I did learn, thanks to observing two very different bosses, was never to be stingy, especially at the holidays. If I ever decide to write a how-to book for future CEOs, one chapter title will read: Be a Fezziwig, not a Scrooge. Be generous with bonuses, even when it makes your accountants wince, and don't pinch pennies when it comes to the holiday party. You want people to talk about it long after it's over and look forward to it all year.
At Big Ass Solutions, our parties have changed as we've grown. When we started out, we could have held them in a closet and had room for everyone, though that would have been creepy. There were six of us, and everyone knew more than they wanted to about everybody else. For a while we had white elephant raffles, which people saw as an opportunity to clear out their liquor cabinets and support the tchotchke industry -- and Archie McPhee. One lucky person won a gift card to a fast-food franchise, which had been put up for bid by someone who'd earned it in exchange for having pulled a cockroach out of his mouth. Of course this was fully disclosed and documented, with photo of said cockroach. It's still floating around the internet somewhere, I hear.
Now things are different. We've gotten too big for company-wide gift exchanges, and we hold the parties in our R&D lab, which is the size of an airplane hangar. Not only does everyone not know everyone else; some of our newer workers don't have a clue who I am. (I'm either doing something very right or very wrong.) Everyone is assigned a table, with the lofty goal of encouraging people in different departments to mingle. This year, after getting the food, drink and company news out of the way, it was time for the main event: giving away money.
The giveaway is run as a kind of lottery. Everybody gets a slip of paper ahead of time with one 5-digit number for every year they've been at the company. This year, $100,000 was given out, in amounts ranging from $1,000 to the grand prize of $20,000, and even better than the lottery, the money has already been taxed.
The whole thing is, I'll admit, ever so slightly rigged. Those on the highest end of the pay scale are out of the running for the largest prizes, because I'll be damned if I'm going to see my CFO trot up to claim an extra $20K. He's already a winner -- he has the unalloyed joy of dealing with me every day.
It's my hope that people will use the extra cash to fund something like furthering their education or advancing a project, because that's what our company is all about. I did hear that one winner will use his windfall $5,000 to help support a daughter during her unpaid internship. That's terrific (though unpaid internships should be outlawed). The winner of the $20,000 prize is still in shock. "I just don't have that kind of luck," he said. He plans to use a small chunk to pay off credit-card debt and put the rest in savings. And he'll be taking his mother out to dinner to celebrate. She likes the Olive Garden, he says.
I love being in business.