Will Haughey is Chief Blockhead of Tegu, a business he started with his brother Chris.
A New Zealander by birth, Will is an avid traveler and is passionate about entrepreneurship and how profit can be used to effect lasting social change in the developing world. He lives in Connecticut with his wife Rachel, founder of the artisanal coffee bar Espresso NEAT, which ensures a steady supply of caffeine for the Tegu office down the street.
In your work, what are you creating, and what are you cultivating? (In Andy Crouch’s vernacular, what new culture are you making, and what good culture are you conserving and nurturing?)
Will Haughey: Creativity—the act of creating something out of nothing—was once considered by theologians to be something only God could truly do. The idea was that only our divine Creator could produce something that never before existed, while humans merely repurposed materials already in existence.
And yet, as human beings made in the image of God, it is clear that one of the most central characteristics we share is the desire and ability to make things.
In founding Tegu, our goal was not simply to develop toys to delight and amuse children—though that is important—but to unleash a chain reaction of innovation on multiple levels. At the basic level, you have the child who is unlocking his own creative potential as he explores the textures and sensations of our magnetic wooden blocks. In Honduras, our employees engage in creation as they transform two-ton logs into beautiful, polished wooden toys. But their impact doesn’t end there: we performed a study revealing that these 60 employees in turn support 170 other individuals with their wages, spurring further innovation as all these individuals are suddenly equipped to pursue educations and other opportunities. Through our partnership with Trees for the Future, we’ve nourished new growth in the rainforest, having planted 35,000 trees. Finally, we’ve directly funded the education of dozens of schoolchildren who had formerly been living on the Tegucigalpa trash dump.
There is no question in my mind that as image-bearers of God the Creator, we have been blessed with both a mandate and the gift of creativity in all we do—at work, at home, and at play. It plays a major role in how we think about Tegu, and you’ll see it in every aspect of our business.
Who is the “public” for your work—who is it for, and how does it affect the lives of those who engage with it?
These days the term “public” is used to refer to those institutions that are state-endorsed or secular, but the word is actually a derivation of the Greek “polis,” meaning “community.” In that sense, the public we serve is humanity, through faith and with thanksgiving. We believe one of the best tools for addressing poverty is through capital markets. Many charities do very good work in Honduras, but they are dependent on donations and volunteers to get their work done. In a country with 35% unemployment, handouts only go so far. We wanted a company that would stand on its own two feet and be attached to the global economy. Our business model addresses the need for sustainable sources of wealth through job creation, as well as donations to fund education for children who are engines for future growth and opportunity.
We also want to be smart about the way we help Honduras, so that its natural resources are not depleted as a by-product of their growth. For that reason we’ve developed a negative-emissions model for wood harvesting. Each block set purchased actually plants about a dozen new trees in the rainforest. When harvested sustainably by local FSC-certified cooperatives, wood is one of the most renewable resources on the planet. More trees equal better air quality for all residents of the planet Earth.
Why do you do what you do?
Quite simply, we are Christians and we have a deep-rooted faith that is about the service of others. The Bible talks about service as a means to build the “body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12) and shares many examples of how this can be implemented. Jesus was the ultimate example of how God can reach out to his people through human hands and acts of love.
This path of entrepreneurship has been far from easy, but I’m grateful that we walk “by faith and not by sight” and rest in knowing that the best is yet to come.
What skills, proficiencies, and virtues does this work develop in you?
There are many, but accountability stands out to me right now. When you’re the one calling the shots, when so many are depending on you to make the right choice, you hold yourself to a higher standard of accountability than when it’s just you. Sometimes it’s a struggle deciding the right course of action, but at Tegu we do our best to consider the impact of our business in a holistic way. From whom we partner with for our wood supply to our ridiculously high toy design standards, we want Tegu to have a ripple effect of good throughout the world.
What five books would you recommend to someone interested in understanding or pursuing the sort of work you do?
- Ordering Your Private World (Gordon McDonald)
- Leadership and Self-Deception (The Arbinger Institute)
- The Second Bounce of the Ball (Sir Ronald Cohen)
- The Steward Leader (Scott Rodin)
- How to Change the World (David Bornstein)
- Business Unlimited (J. Gunnar Olson)
What do you do for fun?
Well, I’m originally from New Zealand and I think was born with a love for travel. My wife and I have also recently just gotten into cycling and running, completing a half marathon together. Beyond that, we love excellent coffee, and I love business and studying businesses and learning what I can from those who have come before me. We’re also blessed with a wonderful group of friends with whom we really enjoy hanging out.