An Alabama CEO has been inspiring a compassionate work environment for over three decades by writing his employees birthday cards – all 9,200 of them.
It’s not uncommon to see Sheldon Yellen of BELFOR Holdings, Inc., a disaster recovery company, walking through an airport carrying a stationary with him on each trip he takes.
While others may spend that time watching an in-flight movie or reading a novel, Yellen can spend that valuable time drafting handwritten letters for his employees.
Sheldon Yellen (pictured) of BELFOR Holdings, Inc., writes birthday cards for his 9,200 employees every year for three decades
According to Business Insider, Yellen has been penning personalized cards to his growing number of workers every year since 1985 when he was chief executive.
He said: ‘There is an inside joke with acquisitions that I ask prior to closing: “How many more people?”‘
‘I am constantly calculating that in my mind rather than “What is the EBITDA [earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization]?”‘
The tradition started in 1985 after Yellen (pictured) was hired as the executive director for the company by his brother-in-laws
The thoughtful gesture began after he was hired because many employees felt Yellen was being handed the job due to nepotism.
‘When I was hired by my brothers-in-laws, their employees perceived me as a guy who just got a job because it was a family-owned company,’ Yellen told Thrive Global.
‘This could not be further from the truth — but I needed to prove it.’
Through hard work – and an added boost from the annual cards – Yellen was able to flourish into a company leader with the respect of his colleagues.
‘It got people talking, we started to communicate more, and I like to think it helped me earn respect within the company,’ he told Business Insider.
But it’s not just birthday cards. Yellen has graduated to writing anniversary cards, thank-you notes, holiday cards and get well cards to employees children when they’re sick.
Yellen found this small act of kindness has cultivated an empathetic and understanding office culture.
Yellen (left) believes writing birthday cards and other personalized notes help create a compassionate work environment for his workers
He said: ‘When I learn of random acts of kindness being performed in the field, I take it upon myself to again, reach out in writing, and send a thank you card so that person can know they are appreciated and that their efforts don’t go unnoticed.’
‘It’s also something that doesn’t have to cost a thing.’
Yellen knows his approach to leadership is at odds with many high powered CEO’s, but it’s one he stands firm in.
He told Thrive Global: ‘Without team comradery it would be nearly impossible for a company to grow and be successful if team members aren’t happy and engaged.’
In 2018, Yellen (pictured) had his kindess returned tenfold after he employees sent him more than 8,000 birthday for his 60th birthday
‘My philosophy is simple — if you take care of your people, your team will in turn take care of your customers!’
His is philosophy is backed up by surveys and career experts.
Business Insider reports that workers believe the best managers are the ones who give positive reinforcement and acknowledge their well-being.
‘When leaders forget about the human element, they’re holding back their companies and limiting the success of others.’
‘Focusing only on profit and forgetting that a company’s most important asset is its people will ultimately stifle a company’s growth.’
His employees have responded to this approach tenfold, proving their appreciation in 2018 when they sent more than 8,000 cards for Yellen’s 60th birthday.
His executive assistant, Gail Kennedy, told Detroit Free Press: People call and say that they want to send him a birthday gift. But, he really doesn’t like receiving gifts or having anyone spend money on him. I say, ‘Write a personal note. That means to him more than anything.’