CEO Dan Price, Who Surprised Employees with $70K Minimum Salary, Feels 'Relieved and Proud'

Jason Duaine Hahn

Dan Price is a CEO with a flair for surprises.

The 35-year-old head of credit card processing company Gravity Payments first made headlines in 2015 when he slashed his own $1 million salary by 90 percent, then brought the salaries of employees up to a minimum of $70,000 per year.

Price stunned the company once again in September after he announced that all those earning the current minimum salary at Gravity’s Boise office would earn an immediate $10,000 raise. Not only that, but their salary would increase every year until 2023, when it would reach $70,000.

Before the increase, a majority of the employees — who joined Gravity after it acquired Idaho company ChargeItPro three years ago — were making below $30,000.

“I feel relieved and proud,” Price tells PEOPLE of seeing the reaction of his employees after the announcement. “I do think about how short my time on Earth is, and it’s motivating for me… It just feels right. It’s fleeting. It doesn’t last very long. But it gives me a guide to where I want to go with my life.”

After announcing the salary increase, Price says he heard from workers about how the new funds would affect them. One employee, a single parent, told Price that he could go from working multiple jobs to spending more time with his child.

“That was a very impactful one,” Price recalls, “because I grew up with two parents that neither one of them went to college. And so they had to work really hard to support us and I saw how hard they worked. It was really meaningful for me to see that this guy’s going to be able to spend more time with his kid. That really, really means a lot to me.”

RELATED: CEO Who Cut His Own Salary Gives New Employees Immediate $10K Raise, with $30K to Follow

Gravity Payments, Boise | Gravity Payments

For that employee and so many others, the salary hike truly is life-changing.

“A lot of the reaction was from people who now all of a sudden can afford to be healthy, take care of themselves, eat right, be able to take care of their families,” Price says. “Those were the things that I was hearing immediately after.”

RELATED: CEO Dan Price on His Decision to Make Entire Company’s Minimum Wage $70K/Year

Price says he was initially inspired to raise the company’s minimum salary — and lower his own — after reading a 2010 study by Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahneman.

In it, the researchers claimed that one’s happiness and well-being may rise with income, but only to a certain point. They believed a salary past $75,000 wouldn’t significantly affect one’s emotional well-being, and that incomes higher than that could buy life satisfaction, but not happiness.

Around that time, Price was on a hike with a close friend, a mom and a military veteran who just had her rent increased by $200.

“It was just throwing her life into total chaos,” Price recalls of their conversation. “I talked to her about it, and she thought that a salary of $70,000 was the amount that she would need to be able to take care of all of her obligations and her son.”

RELATED: New England Patriots’ Rookie Joejuan Williams, 21, Saves 90 Percent of His Paychecks: Here’s Why

That’s when Price felt it in his heart that he needed to make a change, one that would shift money from his pockets and into those of his employees — an almost unheard of decision by any CEO in this day.

“It was an active decision to say, ‘I don’t care as much about my own need to be super-wealthy,’ ” Price says. “It looked after people’s most immediate needs to help their well-being.”

For Price, it is the happiness of others that is worth more than money itself.

“Those moments where we’re just experiencing pure joy together, it gives me not only joy but the relief of knowing this is where I’m supposed to be,” he says, “that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”