When Fish Fly
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From Bankruptcy to World Fame

For twenty years, I worked hard to make my business---a small fish stand in Seattle's Pike Place market---successful.  During much of that time, I didn't take vacations and was on the job twelve hours a day, six days a week.  Like many small businesses, my company wasn't a huge success.  My hard work and that of my employees resulted in a decent lifestyle for all of us, but I wanted something more for the Pike Place Fish Market.  I considered expanding my business.

Around 1986, I decided to venture into the wholesale side of the fish industry.  It was a huge mistake! I delegated responsibility for our wholesale operation to a person who put me seriously in debt in just nine months.  My business and I were in trouble.  Unless I could get $50,000 quickly, the Pike Place Fish Market would face bankruptcy.  Because I hadn't borrowed money from banks in the past, I couldn't get a loan when I needed it.  Fortunately, my mother-in-law came through with the money.  I pulled my team together and told them, "It's either sink or swim." We decided to swim, and we stabilized financially....Jim Bergquist, a business consultant ,brought our staff together in crew meetings every other week...and helped us appreciate we were thinking too small and that we needed a bigger purpose---a bigger game.  One crewmember's response to that challenge was, "Let's become world famous!." World famous? Us? What does that mean? It seemed like a ridiculous idea...We had no money to market ourselves; how could we be "world famous"?......

It All Started With Me

Nothing would have changed around here if I hadn't changed first.  For many years, I was content to do things the way I always had.  I was cynical and angry, and I didn't realize that unless I let go of those feelings, we were doomed.  New and creative ideas were not of interest to me.  Hard work and tried-and-true methods were what I thought produced results.  My rigidity, burnout, and negativity kept us stuck.  It wasn't until I re-created myself that a powerful vision to make a difference could appear.  As I became more open to the ideas of my coworkers, our business began to achieve significant results and our vision was realized....

The old me would have been grumpy and resistant <to novel ideas>. While not an excuse, that resistance, cynicism, and anger were a result of my early life experiences.  My story begins in a Japanese American internment camp, but it ends with ownership of World Famous Pike Place Fish.  It proves that everyone can make a contribution.  There is nothing unusually special about me.  I am truly an ordinary man.  I have no exceptional talents. I never went to college.  I have struggled with reading most of my life and really don't read much other than the sports page.  I am proof that people are creative and powerful without superior intelligence, exceptional business skills, or unusual luck.  At times, when talking to audiences at business schools or major corporate conventions, I find it odd that as a high school graduate, I stand before these accomplished people to speak about business success.  Then again, who else could tell the story of World Famous Pike Place Fish?