A CEO who writes 8,000 employee birthday cards a year just got the ultimate 'thank you'

BELFOR Holdings
  • BELFOR Holdings CEO Sheldon Yellen has made it a tradition to write a birthday card for every single employee at the company.
  • He now writes about 8,000 cards a year.
  • For Yellen’s birthday recently, each person in the company wrote a card to give to Yellen as a token of their appreciation.

Corny jokes and gag gifts often punctuate the average 60th-birthday party. But that wasn’t the case for Sheldon Yellen.

His gift was 8,000 birthday cards.

Yellen is the CEO of BELFOR Holdings, Inc., a billion-dollar disaster relief and property restoration company. Since 1985, long before Yellen became chief executive, he has written a birthday card to every employee of the company every year. Today, he said he hand-writes 8,000 cards annually.

As a token of the staff’s appreciation for that long-standing gesture, Yellen received a signed card from everyone at the company for his 60th birthday.

“The BELFOR family continues to amaze me and I’m overwhelmed by this incredibly heartfelt gesture,” Yellen said in a statement to Business Insider. “People say to me all the time that the customer comes first. But I’ll say, ‘I’m sorry, but my people come first.’ And I truly believe that.”

Yellen BirthdayBELFOR Holdings

Yellen said he started writing the birthday cards after he was hired by his brother-in-law, since many of the employees at the time felt he was being given special treatment. If nothing else, the birthday cards would encourage people to stop by his desk, he thought.

“And it worked,” he previously told Business Insider. “It got people talking, we started to communicate more, and I like to think it helped me earn respect within the company.”

Employees surprised Yellen with gigantic stacks of birthday cards around 4:00 p.m. on January 17. Some of the cards were strung across the ceiling as decorations. Others sat in neat piles on a long table.

Yellen’s longtime executive assistant, Gail Kennedy, said the occasion was especially meaningful after working with Yellen for more than two decades.

“Since I started working at BELFOR 21 year ago, I have always looked forward to receiving a birthday card from Sheldon and I think I have saved nearly every single card,” she said. “It really is an amazing tradition for a company of our size. The cards always include a personalised note or memory shared, demonstrating how much Sheldon personally cares about every employee.”

To write all those cards, Yellen frequently travels with a stack or two. Whenever he has free time on a flight, he knocks out a few dozen. Over time, the gesture has made for a more compassionate, gracious workplace, Yellen said, since it makes people feel appreciated.

“To every single one of BELFOR’s employees, I can’t thank you enough for your birthday wishes and for your tireless, compassionate dedication to our customers,” Yellen said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to reading each and every card!”

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