Tinkering with the Toy Industry

The Haughey brothers co-founded Tegu, a toy company that derives its name from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Chris (left) is Head Elf and Will (right) is Chief Blockhead.

The Haughey brothers co-founded Tegu, a toy company that derives its name from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Chris (left) is Head Elf and Will (right) is Chief Blockhead.

Editors' note: The new weekly TGCvocations column asks practitioners about their jobs and how they integrate their faith and work. Interviews are conducted and condensed by Bethany L. Jenkins, director of TGC's Every Square Inch.

Will Haughey, 32, has been a toymaker at Tegu for almost six years, after having been an investment banker at Goldman Sachs for four years. Tegu was the 2009 winner of the Ei Business Plan Competition through the Center for Faith & Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and its co-founders were 2012 fellows of the Business Accelerator through Praxis.

Why did you leave Goldman Sachs?

It was a combination of factors. First, I've always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Even at a young age, I'd stay up late thinking of new ideas. Second, I loved working in finance, but the prospect of making more money and rising in title, on its own, was not all that appealing to me. I was increasingly in a position to give financially to various initiatives, but I wanted to invest my time and talent, too. Third, the idea of working in Honduras was exciting because Chris had visited there and loved it.

Was there a single moment when you decided to take the leap?

Yes. I was visiting my old youth pastor, who planted a church in the Hamptons, and I had two significant realizations. The first was practical—I realized that organizations don't just emerge out of nowhere; they exist because someone at some point in history decided that they should. The second was spiritual—I realized that, even if our venture failed or my career took a nosedive, my worth and my identity were unshakeable in Christ. These realizations gave me the confidence I needed to take the risk.

What was the biggest obstacle you faced in the beginning?

I left Goldman in May 2008, and we secured our first round of investing in April 2009. This was a terrible time to raise money, especially for a high-end toy company working in the developing world, and I was limited in my abilities. Yes, I could share our plan and vision with potential investors, but I couldn't coerce or manipulate their enthusiasm or support. There was a gap between what I could do and what their response might be. I frequently prayed, “Lord, if we don't find willing investors, this won't happen.”

Do you consider yourself more a businessman or a toymaker?

Definitely the former. We didn't know Tegu would be a toy company. We first saw that Honduras needed more employment opportunities. Then we discovered a beautiful and underutilized resource in its timber. We had an affinity for wood since we had grown up with a home workshop. After visiting Germany and seeing its high-end toy industry, the idea of Tegu being a wooden toy company began to materialize.

What counter-cultural practices have you adopted that are informed by your faith?

First, we have knowingly accepted less than industry competitive margins. In 2010, when our toy production started, if we had been using factories in Asia, our product margins would have been more than 50 percent. That year in Honduras, however, they were only below 30 percent because Honduras didn't have an experienced and talented manufacturing economy to lean on. Since our vision is to create jobs, we had to invest in people. So we absorbed less-than-ideal margins, ultimately, as a measure of our generosity to the people of Honduras.

Today, our margins have increased substantially to more than 40 percent because we've adopted a culture that teaches and embraces “lean manufacturing” principles. We're creating a culture of problem solvers. Training a worker how to operate a machine is helpful, but it is limited to a particular factory environment. Teaching a worker how to approach solving a problem, however, is transferable to any business and, well, invaluable.

Second, we recently started a savings program for our employees. They can now set aside some of their earnings, and we will match a portion of it. Of course, the industry paradigm in the developing world is to pay as little as possible to workers and to get from them as much as possible. The gospel, however, opens our eyes to see our employees as people made in the image of God. We want to create programs that benefit them, helping them to provide for their families and contribute to their own communities.

You can read more about Tegu in a recent profile from CNN or this video from AEI:

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