Employee-owned Orem tech biz grows rapidly, becomes debt-free

December 30, 2011

Daily Herald
December 30, 2011
Written by Jim Dalrymple
Source: http://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/central/orem/employee-owned-orem-tech-biz-grows-rapidly-becomes-debt-free/article_3221e588-3fc9-5bbe-87c8-7958f5362785.html

When a majority shareholder decided to pull out of Orem-based Fishbowl Inventory last year, the tech company was left scrambling. The company needed $1.5 million to continue operating and to avoid being broken up, and literally at almost the last minute the company was guaranteed a loan from Zions Bank.

"At 5:57 p.m. the deal came through," CEO David Williams recalled Thursday, adding that the company only had three more minutes on Dec. 30, 2010, before it would have been too late. The deal meant that Fishbowl could keep operating, and Williams praised Zions Bank for being willing to finance the business when no one else would.

But the drama didn't end there. Though the deal was reached in December, Fishbowl -- which develops inventory management software -- didn't actually get the money until the following May. When the funding did finally come through, the company learned the loan was for half a million dollars less than needed.

According to Williams, that was the moment Fishbowl employees rose to the occasion.

"We scraped together $500,000," Williams said. "Employees took pay cuts."

Williams added that employees also were willing to do even more, going as far as to pull out their wallets and offer their own credit cards as sources of funding. In the end, the company didn't have to charge employees just to stay in business, but the pay cuts along with record sales filled the funding shortfall.

Fishbowl stayed open, and on Thursday the latest chapter in the company's story concluded when Williams paid back the entire $1 million loan in one payment. The company was obligated to pay back only part of the loan at the due date, much as a homeowner would make a mortgage payment, but through growing sales managed to raise the entire amount it owed the bank.

The event -- dubbed the "March to Zion" by the company -- was celebrated Thursday with a party, a short ceremony and an oversized check. It means Fishbowl is debt-free and that its stock -- which had been held by the bank as collateral -- can be distributed to employees. Williams said the company is entirely owned by employees and that 30 percent of the stock will be distributed to employees who have been hired since he took over in 2004.

Zions Bank relationship manager Brad Adamson worked with the company to make the loan happen. He said it's rare to see a company pay off its entire loan so quickly and all at once. But Adamson explained that when he began working with Fishbowl he was convinced of the value of its product, and the company's success since receiving the loan in May is a testament to its leadership and employees.

"It speaks well of their ability to manage the company," Adamson said. "And it's the employees that deserve the credit. They all rallied together."

Williams also praised his employees many times during Thursday's festivities. During a short speech he described the company as a family and only moments before had taken a turn dancing in a circle of young workers. Later, he pointed out that employees rarely leave Fishbowl and enjoy working together.

The employees have always been a big one of Fishbowl's strengths, Williams went on to say. He joined the company in 2004, after he was sent by a shareholder to shut it down. At the time, the company had only five employees, none of whom were getting paid. But Williams said he saw potential in the company and decided to join it, rather than shut it down. Today, Fishbowl employs 88 people.

Fishbowl's clients include NASA, various government agencies, Lowe's, Nordstrom, several major car companies, banks and others. Williams said the company has continued to grow in recent months, despite the recession. That growth was one of the things that led Zions Bank president Scott Anderson to praise the company Thursday. Anderson attended the festivities Thursday and said Fishbowl is an example of the kind of business he is interested in funding.

"It's a feather in the state's cap," Anderson added.

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