Dan Price branded himself as a benevolent CEO. Some former employees challenge that portrayal
This story includes mentions of sexual assault.
In 2015, Seattle CEO Dan Price announced that he’d be raising the base minimum salary for all of his employees at his Ballard-based company, Gravity Payments, to $70,000 annually.
That decision made him something of a celebrity CEO. He was featured on the cover of business magazines, and made the rounds on talk shows like The Kelly Clarkson show, where he appeared with some of his employees.
It was all working out for Price, who started the company when he was just a teenager at Seattle Pacific University.
But some former Gravity Payments employees say the glossy magazine features and talk show appearances were a façade — that the day-to-day work at the company was far from glamorous.
Soundside host Libby Denkmann talked to Seattle Times business reporter Lauren Rosenblatt about her story "Seattle celebrity CEO Dan Price's rise and fall at Gravity Payments."
"I talked with about 40 people for the story who were either former employees or were close with with Dan, about 30 of them had formerly worked at gravity," Rosenblatt said. "A lot of them said that the workload was not manageable, they were often scrambling to keep up with new priorities; leadership would change their mind a lot. They felt like they were working long hours, sometimes they would get late night phone calls or text messages. A few of them said it started to affect them physically."
Many former employees also said that Price created a culture of fear around the office, Rosenblatt added.
"He would make kind of outlandish requests," she said. "He would ask them to help out with other favors outside of their job description, like going to pick up trash from a party that he had attended. A lot of people talked about him publicly berating people, if they disagreed with one of his ideas. A couple of people mentioned that he would tell his employees he was smarter than them."
But many of the former employees said working at Gravity Payments wasn't all bad — they believed in the company's mission of helping small businesses and built friendships with colleagues.
Rosenblatt also touched on dinners the company would hold for new hires. Some former employees saw the dinners as a good way to get to know and bond with their colleagues; others saw them as a tool for emotional manipulation, and felt pressured to overshare.
"When someone was hired, they were taken out to dinner with managers and some of the company leaders," Rosenblatt said. "And while they were there, everyone would talk about their personal experiences. They would answer questions about the high and low points of their life, their biggest regrets, you know, sometimes talking about very traumatic, very personal situations."
Murmurs of alleged sexual misconduct by Price also circulated among Gravity Payments employees. Then in February 2022, he was charged in Seattle with misdemeanor assault in connection with allegations that he choked and forcibly kissed a 26-year-old woman. Price pleaded not guilty in May 2022, and the case is set to go to trial this month.
Additionally, police in Palm Springs, Calif. investigated allegations that Price drugged and raped a woman, and recommended charges. Prosecutors there are expected to make a decision by the end of this month, Rosenblatt told Soundside.
Price has denied the allegations of sexual and physical assault against him, and stepped down as Gravity Payments' CEO in 2022 amid a flurry of media attention to the allegations.
Listen to the full interview by clicking the play button above.