Why this CEO personally sends a birthday card to each of his 7,000 employees

Anish Pavitran | EyeEm | Getty Images

Imagine writing 7,000 birthday cards each year. Now imagine doing that while also running a $1.5 billion company.

It's all part of the job for Sheldon Yellen, CEO of property restoration company Belfor.

"People say to me all the time that the customer comes first," Yellen told CNBC. "But I'll say, 'I'm sorry, but my people come first.' And I truly believe that."

Sheldon Yellen (center) said appearing approachable as a CEO is important to him.
Source: Belfor

Personally writing a birthday card to each of his employees is all about individually recognizing them. "By putting my people first, they then in turn take care of — in an amazing way — our clients and customers," he said.

A stack of blank cards always sits on Yellen's desk, in his briefcase and on his private plane. When Yellen is traveling or has down time, he handwrites personalized birthday messages, adding anecdotes from memory or notes he keeps on his employees.

The cards are then mailed out by his assistant, who confirmed the process.

Mathematically speaking, if each card takes about 30 seconds of Yellen's time, that's 3,500 minutes or a little over 58 straight hours.

In other words, Yellen likely spends 2 ½ days of sheer birthday-card writing each year.

"It does take time, but I really view my position as working for all of our great people," he said. "These people have sacrificed for this company and my dream and my vision."

A CBS interview shows Yellen writing the cards.

Somebody has a birthday — what a great time to acknowledge them.
Sheldon Yellen
Belfor CEO

The tradition started about three decades ago when Yellen first started with Belfor. As a brother-in-law to one of the owners of the company, Yellen felt like other employees at the company didn't respect him.

"To break through that, I figured I would start writing personal birthday cards. They would at least have to stop by and say thanks for the card," he said. "And they did. We started communicating with each other."

As Belfor grew, so did Yellen's birthday card list. He hasn't stopped doing it since.

"This is cultural," he said. "Somebody has a birthday — what a great time to acknowledge them."