June 6, 2011 | last updated March 25, 2012 11:08 am
2011 Central Mass. Family Business Awards

Checkerboard: A Business Made Of Paper

PHOTO/EDD COTE
Pictured, from left to right, are: Micah Chase and his father Arthur Chase.

When Arthur Chase handed over the presidency of his business to his son, it was not the same old story of a family business being passed on from one generation to the next. Arthur had actively pursued Micah, the youngest of his three children - and indeed had to spend a good deal of time convincing him to come on board.

"I wasn't a father looking for a job for my child," explains Arthur Chase, who started Checkerboard Ltd. in 1989 after a long career as president of Chase Paper and persuaded Micah to join him in 1992. According to Arthur, it took Micah more than a month to agree, with the "rules" of their business relationship scribbled on the back of an envelope during a car trip to a family function. "I specifically wanted him."

FATHER-SON DYNAMICS

It's easy to see why Arthur persisted. With a background in artificial intelligence and an MBA from the University of Rochester, Micah's keen understanding of organizational dynamics has led to a company that continues to be an innovative leader in its field. Having crafted invitations and paper goods for countless celebrities across the country and all over the world, the company recently expanded its online offerings with the birth of eInvite.com, a unique web portal where customers can be the creative force behind their invitations and stationery needs.

While the focus at Checkerboard is on craftsmanship, quality paper communications and cutting edge technology, at the root of Checkerboard's success is an exceptional relationship between father and son: one based on love, admiration and respect.

"My father is an incredibly smart man," Micah said. "We've done this together, and it just wouldn't have been possible without his wisdom." Though Arthur, a former state senator and city councilor, splits his time between Worcester and his Florida home, he stays involved in business decisions as much as needed and desired. And of course, the pair spend a lot of time on the phone, according to Micah.

"I try to tell him what to do, but he's the boss," says Arthur with a smile. And though Micah taps into his dad's 60 years of experience frequently, he is okay with going out on a limb. "I do think long and hard before going against what he says," Micah said. "But it happens."

CREATIVE MANAGEMENT

It might be the world's most colossal understatement to say that Checkerboard has an unconventional culture. Micah describes many of the company's most successful strategies as "unintuitive," but he's never been afraid to take a risk or two.

"Over half of our employees are related to each other," boasts Micah, as this is an immense source of pride for the company. They encourage their 120 employees to refer their spouses, cousins, mother-in-laws and siblings to join the team. "We figure if they are willing to say to their family members, 'I love where I work and think you would too,' we must be doing something right." In fact, Micah's wife, Iris, heads up the art department and his cousin, Joanne Laipson, works remotely in Southern California and functions as the vice president.

The creativity at Checkerboard doesn't stop at the products - it's embedded in everything the company does, including how it acknowledges employees. Each year, a staff member is awarded with an unusual honor like, "Doing the Right Thing," and "Continually Reinventing Ourselves" and "Cultivating an Exceptional Workplace."

Another brainchild of Micah's is the "Read it and Reap" program, which encourages employees to read a book - either from the vast lending library or from their own - and write a one-page report on how they can tie in their reading with their experiences at Checkerboard. This task can be completed up to twice a month by all employees and comes with a $50-bonus.

Growing the business has had everything to do with unintuitive and unusual business practices, Micah said. For example, in key areas of the facility, he has chosen to form teams of workers that see a project through from beginning to end instead of segregating each department into its own space.

Arthur, for one, is pleased to step back and watch his son take the paper empire he has built and run with it.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for his ability," he said.

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