CEO handwrites birthday cards for 12,000 employees, has for decades

When it comes to handwriting thousands of employees' birthday cards, Belfor Holdings CEO Sheldon Yellen says it's worth the muscle cramps.

It's a tradition he started in 1985, when he had a 19-person staff. That payroll grew to over 9,200 staff members in 34 countries eventually, and Yellen kept writing the cards, he said on FOX Business’ “Bulls and Bears” on Friday. Now, including a recent acquisition, his staff has expanded to more than 12,000 people.

"Is it worth it? I think it is. I think it's a culture builder."

- Sheldon Yellen, Belfor Holdings CEO

"It lets people know and understand that they matter," Yellen said. As he travels around the world, having that handwritten connection to someone helps him remember aspects of their lives.

"I get to drop a little note in each birthday wish, and they feel remembered and valued," Yellen said.

Yellen has noticed employees collecting the various cards he's written for them over the years, and realizes that his good deed has become contagious.

"They, too, pass on that to others, and I think, again, a culture is the most important thing for a business and the biggest asset you've got is the great people who run the business."

- Sheldon Yellen, Belfor Holdings CEO

In a world where personal interaction can sometimes be trumped by digital communication, Yellen said handwritten cards get people's heads out of their smart phones.

"Maintaining that handwritten note as a practice, as a habit, I think is important because it really differentiates you from these e-mails and texts that go on," Yellen said.

He carries a flip-phone himself, so he can’t text. He embraces communicating with people in person.

“When people talk, I want to hear the emotion.”

- Sheldon Yellen, Belfor Holdings CEO

"I'm working alongside some of the greatest people on Earth," said Yellen, whose company offers post-disaster recovery services to businesses worldwide.

“We get to serve those people that have lost their homes, their businesses, and help restore their lives and get their facilities back in order," Yellen said. "And a hug, a handwritten note, a thank you -- a sign of gratitude? This is not a lost art at Belfor, I can tell you that.”

Yellen said since his company typically approaches people on some of the worst days of their lives, random acts of kindness are invaluable.

"That's what we should all be striving to do every day," Yellen said. "One of the cheapest things you can do in life to make a difference is just by being nice."