Partners in business and life: How these North Bay entrepreneurs learned balance
We’ve heard it before: “A couple who plays together, stays together.” But with apologies to Bill and Melinda Gates, what about the couple who works together and gets divorced?
Susan Griffin-Black, 55, and Brad Black, 59, have proven there’s life after divorce, even going on Dr. Phil’s television show in 2019 to talk about their amicable split.
The duo started EO Products three decades ago while they were married. Since their breakup, they have remained close personally and run the San Rafael manufacturer of essential oil and personal care products as co-CEOs.
Black was working in the clothing industry, when he met her in 1988. She approached him to get garments for a boyfriend going on a scavenger hunt.
“The moment we met we were friends,” he said. “It was amazing. She got me, and she got what I was trying to do. It wasn’t like a thunderbolt, but we resonated, and it’s been that way throughout our whole relationship.”
The duo got married in 1995 and have a daughter together, Lucy, 24.
“I think we’ll be in a relationship forever,” she said of the camaraderie. “I have trust and faith in that. Sometimes we’re not in line with our opinions, and we have to work through it. We’re just different people,” she said.
After a stint with couples therapy, the Blacks divorced in 2007. The change in their lives has sometimes worked to their advantage at the workplace where they oversee 170 employees.
“We disagree less and don’t get stuck in the anger. The love kicks in,” Black said.
They’ve grown to understand each other better. Instead of allowing a former spouse push hurtful buttons, the Blacks learned to revert back to an inner respect for one another.
“You have to ask yourself: ‘How deep are you willing to go in your vulnerable space’?” Black explained. “There’s a tenderness I feel from Susan.”
In turn, Griffin-Black supports their newfound boundaries.
“Each of us has done the personal work where there’s a lot of opportunity for growth,” she said.
That’s not to say there aren’t challenges. They both emphasized the struggles of the pandemic as they endured “bad cash flows” within their business in the past year.
“The issue with the pandemic is how we engage in discord. I think that’s one of our strengths. We have had every right to never want to see each other again, yet we chose to take our relationship deeper,” he said.
Since their separation, Black has stayed single and Griffin-Black has connected with a boyfriend for the last seven years.
“We just know we’ll always be in each others’ lives,” she said.
Laws of attraction, independence
Let’s be honest. Work is sexy, when you’re watching someone accomplishing unique tasks.
“My parents said never to marry someone not as smart as me,” said Sonoma County lawyer Rachel Dollar.
She describes her husband and law firm partner Glenn Smith as quick witted and sharp as a tack.
“That made him attractive. I respect him. He’s an amazing lawyer, and that helps,” she said.
The two have their own interests, and that works out for their personal lives. He likes muscle cars. She likes to cook. They run a namesake law firm in Santa Rosa, but that doesn’t mean they live their work.
“We have two different relationships,” she said. “Home issues do not come up at the office. At home, it’s: ‘What’s for dinner?”
The couple said they respect each other’s “alone” time.
“A lot of couples are needy,” Smith said.
Instead, it’s been a blessing for the two attorneys to have different wings at the office. They both work at home where the wings are now separate floors.
“The essence of our marriage is we started working together before we were a couple,” Smith said, referring to a time when they kept their dating a secret as peers at a large law firm.
The couple has been “together” for 22 years and got married seven years ago.
Their secret to wedded bliss while running their firm together is simple.
“We don’t take it home with us, even if we’re as angry as a mad hatter with each other,” she said, adding times have occurred when they view cases differently.
Argumentative diplomacy is ingrained in the legal world.
With a love of good food
Providing individual room to grow is the secret recipe for the working matrimony behind chef Josef Keller and his wife, Jill Keller-Peters.
“We do pretty well with giving each other space,” said the 70-year-old marketer and business partner of Chef Josef’s Gourmet Seasoning Blends.
Although it’s the 67-year-old chef’s name on the shingle over the last four years, the Keller-Peters combo adds up to an equal presence in the business with her knowledge of promoting a business. He’s the face of the business, drawing on 30 years of experience running restaurants, including La Provence and Josef’s Restaurant & Bar.