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The inspiring way a CEO shows gratitude to his 9,200 employees

SHELDON YELLON
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Sheldon Yellen really knows how to put his employees at the heart of the company.

When Sheldon Yellen, CEO of Belfor Holdings Inc., is traveling, you won’t see him engrossed in a newspaper article or typing away on a laptop. He’s more likely to be carefully writing out a thoughtful birthday card to send to one of his 9,200 employees.

Yellen started the practice 34 years ago when his brothers-in-law brought him into the company, which deals with property restoration and disaster relief. Fearing other employees would feel he was gaining preferential treatment, Yellen, who was far from being a CEO at the time, decided to acknowledge each of the company’s employees by sending them a birthday card. He hoped that the gesture might spark a conversation with recipients.

The plan, as the now-CEO shared with Business Insider, was successful. The other employees started communicating with him and friendships were formed. Yellen believes that the card-sending helped him gain respect among the staff for being someone who was truly invested in them. As he points out in an interview with Yitzi Weiner at Thrive Global: “The power of a genuine act is unbelievable and it’s noticeable, when it’s real!”

Impressively the card-giving still continues more than three decades later, an unusual move for someone leading a company — especially with over 9,000 employees. And interestingly, the 61-year-old has expanded the practice to include personal thank you notes for when employees have performed random acts of kindness, notes to the kids of his staff when they’re ill, and even anniversary cards.

It may seem incredible to think that during his busy schedule Yellen takes the time to acknowledge those working at the company in such a traditional way; after all he could easily have sent a standard email, or even delegate the job to someone else. The CEO, however, wants each employee to know that they count. That they’re worth the effort of putting pen to paper.

It’s no surprise then that Yellen believes his efforts have generated a culture of compassion within the company. As he points out “When leaders forget about the human element, they’re holding back their companies and limiting the success of others,” adding, “Focusing only on profit and forgetting that a company’s most important asset is its people will ultimately stifle a company’s growth.”

To learn more about Yellen and his interesting career path and approach to life, you can read the original interview with Thrive Global here.