Pay Generosity Forward to Engage Employees in Business and at Work


As part of the third generation of an immigrant family born in the U.S. who also spent a good chunk of my HR career in retail distribution thanks to my own college degree, I was struck by the story of Boxed.com‘s CEO Chieh Huang and his policy of paying for the college tuition of his employees’ children. As illustrated in this interview with Forbe’s Magazine, Huang’s success underscored his need to pay forward the gifts that a college education brought to him:

Feldman: What’s your background?

Huang: We were really poor growing up. I spent time in Columbus and later in Baltimore. It was tough times in Ohio when we lived there. My dad was between unemployed and just selling random knickknacks at a flea market. My mom was a cashier at a Chinese food restaurant. They both had awesome careers back in Taiwan, and they came here for my sister and I.

Feldman: Wow, that’s tough.

Huang: It was. We bounced around, and ended up in New Jersey, and have been in central Jersey since then. [When we lived in Baltimore] my mom worked at this Chinese restaurant near Johns Hopkins University, and she would always say, ‘We have to do what we can as a family to get your kids to go to Hopkins.’ She thought there was no way we would be able to go. I was able to go to Hopkins, and graduated in 2003. I ended up in a government-sponsored program to teach English in the Japanese countryside. I felt like I was wasting my life. I came back to law school and ended up becoming a corporate attorney.

Feldman: So this was your impetus for paying for your employees’ kids to go to college?

Huang: Going into our fulfillment centers brought back memories of how my parents struggled. I go to a fulfillment center, like the one we opened in Atlanta, and most people can’t afford a car. Some CEOs would say, ‘Oh, that’s capitalism.’ That’s not the kind of person I am and not the kind of team I want to build. I realized that education has been so transformative in my family’s life. I just thought, let’s do something. If we have a liquidity event, a large portion of my stake in the company is set aside of that. It’s a little under half the way we have been calculating it. I’m just a regular dude from New Jersey. If Boxed is successful, and you take 90% of my money away, I’ll still be all right.

How do you pay generosity forward to engage your employees in business and at work?

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