Some startups–maybe most–build burnout into the business model. Boxed, an online wholsaler launched in 2013, does not. CEO Chieh Huang doesn’t abide that sort of thinking. He believes that employers get the most out of their workers by investing in them. And he keeps doubling down. Huang, a 35-year-old father of two, made waves earlier this year when he formalized an unlimited paid parental leave. Why did he do it? For practical reasons and because he’s instinctively generous
“An employee asked what our parental policy was and my gut reaction was, ‘Take as much time as you need and we’ll hold down the fort,'” says Chieh. “Everyone was deathly afraid to use the parental leave policy. I thought to myself, “This should be a happy moment, instead it’s people are just stressed out.'”
Chieh’s low-stress worldview is informed by high-stress years working as an attorney at a large law firm and growing up as the son of poor Chinese immigrants who struggled to provide for the family without a command of English. Basically, Chieh doesn’t want people to be stressed and he doesn’t believe it helps anyone be productive. Today Boxed’s 250 employees enjoy not only paid parental leave, but wedding reimbursements up to $20,000. What’s perhaps most impressive about Chieh’s programs is that they are designed to ease the way for his employees but do the opposite for him by costing him money. He still thinks it’s worth it.
“There are a lot of downsides from being a CEO,” he says, “the stress, the big decisions, good or bad but the good part is you get to make the rules.”
What is your name?
Co-founders and CEO of Boxed
How old are your child/children?
I have a 3 1/2 daughter and a little baby son who is now six months old.
What are their names?
Yuma is my daughter; his name is Rio.
Are they named after anyone in particular?
They aren’t named after anyone. We tried to get a name that meant something in English and easily legible and something that jives with Japanese (my wife is Japanese). It’s a limited set. In Japanese, you get names that don’t necessarily have a kanji word behind them but they are name.
Do you have any cute nicknames for your child?
Man, no. I wish we did.
What do they call you?
My daughter calls me Papa.
How often do you see them?
I try to see them every day, to kiss them goodbye in the mornings. Luckily they go to bed pretty late, because of my schedule, so we spend time together at night
Describe yourself as a father in three words.
Loving. Strict. Worried.
Describe your father in three words.
Laid-back. Explosive. Teacher. My father woke me up every morning on summer break and made me go with him to fix the shed or clean the gutter. He taught me how to do those things too. I don’t know how to fix the shed anymore but I remember the responsibility he had as a parent.
What are your strengths as a father?
What are your weaknesses as a father?
I had very little growing up and I knew how that felt as a kid to not have stuff your friends and family had. For me, I have to pull back every once in a while because that experience so profoundly affected me. I’m strict with the way my daughter talks to people and how she behaves, but my weakness, because I had so little, is to err on the side of getting things for her.
Relatedly, what is your biggest regret as a father?
I have this recurring nightmare and regret every single day that I’m not spending more time with my kids. Full well knowing that I will regret that in the future is a tough thing to swallow.
What is your favorite activity to do with your children, that is, your special father-kid thing?
Even as young as my daughter is she loves video games. So turning on the PS4 letting her play Madden, even though it is on demo mode, is a lot of fun.
What has been the moment you were the most proud as a parent? Why?
It’s a small win but when she shares on the playground, I know we have been successful as parents.
What heirloom did your father give to you, if any?
The heirloom I have right now is the drive to support my family through hard work. It’s tough coming to a country not speaking the language and to provide for your kids. They tried to keep the struggles from me but my lucid memories were much earlier than my parents thought. I remember sitting at the kitchen table hearing them tell my older sister they just didn’t have the money to send her on field trips. It was only a few bucks but that sense of struggle, and what it takes to overcome it, had a deep effect on me.
What heirloom do you want to leave for your children, if anything?
A small purple eraser in the shape of a sea turtle. When I was in first grade in Baltimore, our class took a field trip to the National Aquarium. I don’t know if my parents forgot or if we just didn’t have the money but everyone else had a dollar or two to buy something at the souvenir shop. Someone else’s Dad saw that I didn’t have anything and bought me a purple sea turtle eraser. I brought it home and was super excited to show it to my mom. I thought she would be so happy but, though she tried to hide it, I could tell she was really upset. It hurt her pride that it was someone else who provided it to her son because she couldn’t. That’s what I’ll leave my children. To me the eraser means anything is possible. There was a time we couldn’t afford a damn little eraser from the National Aquarium. I’m not saying we’re incredibly rich now but I do think what we have is the culmination of the American Dream.
Describe the “Dad Special” for dinner?
When my daughter knows it’s dad’s turn to cook, she knows we’re going to Smashburger.
Are you religious and are you raising your children in that tradition?
I’m not super overly religious. With my children, it is up to them. Religion is something they need to discover themselves. I hope they can enumerate why they can believe in a certain religion outside of just this is what we did growing up.
What’s is a mistake you made growing up that you want to ensure your child does not repeat?
There were simple things I could have put my parents at ease. When it was 9 pm and I was at my friend’s house, instead of letting my mother frantically call around the neighborhood, I should have just called. She wasn’t busting my chops.
Aside from saying it, how do you make sure you kid knows you love him or her?
I got addicted to this habit of taking just a random day off and spending it with my daughter. I know I’ve got meetings and it’ll be a pain to reschedule but the office isn’t going to burn down if I don’t go in. It’s not like we do anything that special — sometimes we just head to the park — but the light in her eyes when I tell her is like a drug.