The Father Of The Year Awards celebrate both influencers and unsung heroes who have made a major contribution to fatherhood, kids, and communities.
Chieh Huang, CEO of online wholesaler Boxed.com, admits he wasn’t happy the day he paid a surprise visit to his company’s Atlanta fulfillment center. It was just before one o’clock in the afternoon and a handful of cars sat in the parking lot. “I was thinking, ‘People are taking long lunches—this is why I show up unannounced,’” he recalls. Inside the warehouse, though, he saw a full shift of workers busy packing up boxes for shipments. He was told that only two of the employees at the center could afford a car.
As the child of emigrants from Taiwan, Huang, who grew up in Ohio, Maryland, and New Jersey, knew the value of a good education—and money. His mother, a cashier at a Chinese restaurant when the family lived in Baltimore, scrimped and saved to ensure he had enough to attend Johns Hopkins, which was right across the street from the restaurant. Huang went on to get his law degree at Fordham Law School.
His origin story explains why Huang tried to “solve” the car problem in Atlanta the way he did. Realizing that his employees lacked the savings for autos, much less college, Huang considered renting a fleet of vehicles, but decided to go a different way: He offered to have the company pay for their children’s college.
“What got my family to live the American dream was a college education,” Huang, 36, says. “If Boxed does well, I’ll make more money than I’ll know what to do with, so why not share some of that?”
The best outcome looks like a pretty likely one for Boxed, which is pushing into Costco’s market space. The company is big and growing. It’s got buzz and Huang’s reputation allows him to recruit top talent. The whole thing seems to work largely because Huang is a natural entrepreneur.
Huang began his work life as a teacher in Japan before returning to the States to restart his career as a corporate attorney. On the side, he and some friends developed Astro Ape, a mobile social gaming company that was acquired by Zynga in 2011 for an undisclosed amount. Huang used the profits from that sale to launch Boxed, an e-commerce store that specializes in grocery and household goods for people who don’t have the time or patience to drive to the nearest Costco. The site, launched out of his garage in Edison, New Jersey in 2013, has grown to its current sales of $100 million, which landed Boxed at no. 2 on this fall’s Crain’s New York Business list of the fastest-growing companies in the New York area.
Now the father of three-year-old daughter Yuma and eight-month-old son Rio, Huang hasn’t limited his employee benefits to college funds. Starting next semester, five students will be benefiting from Huang’s initiative. Boxed’s unlimited parental leave programs set the bar high for the competition and provide families with an opportunity to both bond and maintain dual incomes—lack of paternity leave often puts pressure on women to stop working. It’s the sort of policy that takes the idea of “family friendly” and makes it material in a profound way. It will help Huang’s employees be better dads and moms. And that matters to Huang, a father who want to be present in the lives of his children—no easy task in startup land.
Naturally, Huang has received some accolades and some press for his approach to human resources. His approach to handling that sort of praise? He shrugs it off. He seems indifferent to validation.
“I wish I had some amazing foresight into making a happy workforce, but sometimes having something happen to you is the best way to understand what people are going through,” he says. “Having children rewired my brain. I watch a Pixar movie now and get misty-eyed. I realized that having a child and wanting them to do better than you’re doing is what everyone goes through, no matter race, religion, creed. I want to do as much as I can to fulfill that dream.”