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?