The benefits of receiving a racehorse as a gift
by Trey Nosrac
At four o’clock in the afternoon, near the open glass doors leading into the empty dining room of Mulligan’s Restaurant at the Columbia Hills Country Club, a stocky young woman with blond hair pulled into a tight ponytail paused and brushed unseen lint from the right off the shoulder of her blue sweater.
She stood in the doorway, nervously scanning the empty room. Her gaze lingered on an aquarium in the middle of the room. The silo-shaped glass aquarium was unique, perhaps five feet in diameter and six feet high. The woman noticed a green turtle the size of an upside-down soup bowl struggling over colored pebbles while zebrafish darted overhead. As she watched, a stranger, a young man in a bright blue long-sleeved shirt, stepped to her side and removed his sunglasses. She shrugged exaggeratedly.
Before they could say anything, a voice behind the couple startled them. “Lilly, Michael.”
They turned and found a man, maybe 60, very fit, barely over 5 feet tall, removing his golf visor from his gray buzz cut and holding out his right hand: ‘Art, Art Piper. Thank you for coming.”
Michael shook hands first. When Lily shook Art’s hand, she held on and asked, “What are we doing here?”
Art gestured with his visor at a round oak table near the aquarium. “Let’s sit down. I’ll tell you all about it.”
Once they settled into the chairs, a middle-aged waitress or maybe a waiter, a tweener in tight blue jeans and circus clown red hair, came out of the kitchen and asked if they needed anything to drink. Lily ordered sweet tea and Michael said sweet tea would be fine. Art signaled with three fingers and said, “Thanks, Lou.”
Lou or Lew wasn’t a gender reference, but the person turned to get the drinks. Art leaned forward and said, “I’m sure you Googled me.”
Lily said, “They own Pfeifer Plumbing and HVAC, which is the state’s largest subcontractor. They serve on several boards, breed racehorses, are married with two adult children, and are amateur archaeologists.”
Art smiled and said, “The internet is amazing.” He stopped. “I also know something about you both. Not to sound creepy, but your choice wasn’t random. A vetting process brought you to this table and someone you know received a grant, a finder’s fee. They both have an education and a lot of assets that we appreciate. My company has specialized in strengthening the crème de la crème of apprenticeship dropouts again.”
Michael said, “Was it Tucker from Union, the guy I worked with for three months?”
Art nodded. “Tucker and others have been very positive. You are a quick learner, have personality and demonstrate a solid work ethic.”
“But if you’ve spoken to Tucker, you’ll know I’ve resigned. Who recruits a guy who quits?”
“A guy who knows why you quit.”
The redhead appeared with our drinks, put them down and said to Art, “Jack just got here.”
Art gave a thumbs up and addressed his guests: “One of the secrets of my success is that I hire good people. You know plumbing is a lucrative business, the job is stable and immune to most market fluctuations, and you know there aren’t enough good workers available. Oh, I know a lot of candidates start an apprenticeship. But the drugs, the laziness, the lack of initiative, the reliability issues. So many factors deter a high percentage of applicants.” He paused, then added, “For most companies.”
Lily said, “We also know it’s four friggin’ years before you start making any serious money, excuse the language.”
A man approached the table, looking like a magazine model in his blazer and open-necked white shirt. He nodded to Art, slid into the remaining chair, sat down and said, “I’m Jack. I work for art. Ten years ago I sat where you sit now. I started an apprenticeship at another company and quit after a few months.”
“Tell them what you made last year?” Art said.
“$125,000 before perks.”
“Perks?” asked Lily.
“Paid health insurance, five weeks vacation, childcare, membership of this club, individual attention during training, half-owning a racehorse, other.”
“A country club membership? Half a racehorse?” Lily asked.
Art sat back and said, “Let me be as clear as I can. My success depends on my employees. If I have one secret, it’s recruiting, hiring, and keeping good people like you. After much snooping, researching and interviewing, I believe in you.”
Michael sipped his tea and said, “I know plumbing is good business. I know what a country club is, but what the hell about the horse?’
Jack took the reins: “That’s the same question I asked 10 years ago. Here’s the deal, Artie breeds these racehorses, harnesses racehorses. He has some nice farms where he raises horses and then sends them off to learn to be racehorses. Artie gives each employee a percentage of one of his horses. If your horse makes money in racing, you get money at the end of the year, like a bonus.”
Lily Googled her eyes and said, “This is crazy. What if you don’t like horse racing?”
Jack said, “You’ll still get the money. You will be surprised. Horse fun is fun and participating in the sport is addictive. I would guess about half of us get into the sport at some level. The longer you stay with the company, the higher the percentage of ownership Artie offers. After 10 years, you own 50 percent of the income from your horses.
Art said: “It’s different, hopefully not crazy. When I started the Horse Bonus Programs twelve years ago, I carefully evaluated each benefit. The horse ownership, country club, and a few other perks serve a serious purpose. Our employee retention rate is the best in the industry and over 90 percent of Pfeifer employees stay on for more than a decade.”
The room was quiet for a moment, then Artie continued. “Plumbing is essential and in high demand, but not glamorous. All concepts that I have implemented in my company have a reason. Michael and Lily you tick all the boxes we’re looking for but we know the four year old apprentice is a major obstacle. Union rules prevent us from throwing money at you, so we’re trying to bridge the gap with perks. Social benefits are normal in the white-collar sector, but not in the blue-collar sector.”
Jack smiled and said, “And it works. The people you meet when you join our team are top notch. We all have a lot in common after partaking in his perks. Artie reinvents ways to keep things alive in a profession that can be lonely. For example, Artie has made many fans of horse racing. We find that we can discuss horse racing at a cruise, dinner or Christmas party until the cows come home.”
Lily asked, “But we were quitters. We left both apprenticeship programs.”
Artie held up a finger. “You resigned for certain reasons. Four years seems too long. The work wasn’t glamorous and serious money was a long way off. When you left for the first time, you weren’t sure whether this career was sustainable. My job is to show you that this is a viable career by bridging the early years with fun and perks.”
“Me, a country club member, a racehorse owner?” repeated Lily.
Artie smiled, “After lunch we’ll ride to my farm. I am determined to use your talents.”