Forked River’s “CEO Couple” Writing The Book On Love And Success…Literally
They look just like any other couple. In fact, they are just like any other couple. Except that they’re raising his children…and her children…operating two separate businesses…maintaining a healthy level of civic activity in Forked River…and they still have time for each other.
Think “The Brady Bunch” with an impressive revenue stream, and you have Ed and Ellen Schack, The CEO Couple. The book they’re compiling tells their story of commercial success and personal fulfillment – and perhaps it has pointers that could benefit any couple.
A recent Bloomberg Magazine article posed the question of whether husbands and wives could be successful in business and keep their marriage together. The conclusion was a resounding “no.” But Ed and Ellen insist that nothing could be further from the truth, if you know how to do it.
Ed Schack is the sole entrepreneur behind EES Cosmetics, which distributes raw materials to companies in the makeup industry such as L’Oreal, Chanel and Estee Lauder. Ellen Schack owns Cowabunga Ice Cream, dispensing homemade and hand-scooped goodies in a pizzeria in the township and also catering to a growing Internet customer base and a waterborne operation that delivers to vessels in Barnegat Bay.
Listen to Tom Mongelli’s conversation with the Ed & Ellen Schack
They’re also real-estate dabblers through EES Properties, the vehicle that let them buy their company’s brick-and-mortar headquarters and renting it back to themselves to create another revenue stream. Ellen says it began when her daughter was attending college. “We realized that it was much more economically smart to buy a property, and she and her roommates rented it from us,” Ellen recalls. “And so that’s now being turned over to new students.”
“Ellen and I consider ourselves ‘serial entrepreneurs,” Ed tells us. “We’re constantly looking for opportunities and to do things in our own business better…to create a better environment for our own people…but also to look down the road to see what opportunities are out there.”
They weren’t always The CEO Couple. Business wasn’t their mutual focus. “We met a number of years ago in church,” he says. “We became friends. Instead of rushing into a relationship. We both had our own children. Once we started to like each other, we started to introduce the kids to each other.” They wanted to be sure that their budding relationship was something that could be shared all around.
But each sensed a partner with vision. “I think we both were looking to see how we could grow in all aspects of their lives,” says Ellen.
Ergo, they’re the exception to the rule that opposites attract. “Having similar interests, similar beliefs and similar ways we want to do things makes things much easier,” Ed confides. It extends to all corners of their lives. But their lives have only so many hours in each day, just like the rest of us. How do they keep it all managed, segmented and separated?
“It’s so hard to do, yet it’s so simple,” Ellen explains. “We started EES in our home, our desks were facing each other. Dogs were barking and kids were coming home from school. We came up with little tricks. If the door is closed, that’s office hours, knock softly,” she continues. And each day’s planning is macro- and micro-managed. “There is a mass calendar we have…this is the normal time we exercise, this is when we work, this is when I do bills…it’s all pretty planned-out, giving ourselves a little extra time on the ends, because there’s always a surprise.”
“We also calendar-in time for each other,” Ed says, “We sometimes don’t get a chance to communicate with each other during the day. It could be something as simple as a quick lunch, a cup of coffee in the morning. It takes a little bit of discipline.”
Ed and Ellen see themselves as the perfect CEO couple because one is yin, the other is yang. “Her strengths are my weaknesses and my strengths are Ellen’s weaknesses,” says Ed, “so together, we make…the ultimate CEO.” They keep their businesses separate, but when each has a problem that calls for the other’s skills, they erase the borderline until the crises dissolve.
Cosmetics came first. Ed parlayed his previous career in the fashion industry to an independent concern. Ellen wanted to pursue the ice cream idea. Cowabunga began as a stand-alone, facing withering competition in one of the Jersey shore’s staple tourist businesses. But Ed says they took a lesson from Donald Trump. “Most businesses fail because people quit,” he says. “Don’t quit – innovate.” They vacated their own retail space and arranged a collaboration with Anthony’s Pizza.
On the way, they thought about all those people on boats all summer who wouldn’t be driving to Forked River, but probably would like a treat on board. It took off like a runaway train. “We were doing more business in four hours for boats,” he recalls, “than we were doing in a weekend at the store.” That led to a burgeoning Web trade.
Ed says they frequently hear from married friends who can’t understand how two people in full 24/7 involvement can keep it all going and stay together. The short answer is, they like each other. Friends, and lovers. “When you get into a marriage, you need to set priorities,” he says. “My priorities are my life, my wife, my children and myself…Having those priorities in order really helps us set the proper path for not only our personal life but our businesses.”
But success hasn’t gone to their heads. Ed and Ellen say they searched for a community that lets them chase their dream without the hectic trappings of city life, and Forked River fills the bill.
Hear an extended interview with Ed and Ellen Schack here on our web page.