Business survives, marriage doesn’t

for Baby Jogger Founders

By AVIVA L. BRANDT

Associated Press Writer

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) _ Mary and Phil Baechler faced a tough choice when they took a close look at their booming company, Racing Strollers Inc. - and their 15-year marriage.

They could either remain business partners or remain marriage partners. But the combination of living together, working together and raising their family together wasn't working.

The business won.

"My ambition was one of the major reasons my marriage failed," Mary recently wrote in a column for Inc. magazine.

The two, who have three children, were officially divorced in January, after an earlier separation and reconciliation. "When a marriage is not bad, but like a prolonged head cold, that's hard," Mary said in an interview.

She summed it up in her column:

"Phil and I are fundamentally different. Working together revealed it. ... To him, it's simple. A business' sole function is to make money. He once said to me, 'Hey, it's not a religion.' Me? I'm hooked on the magic. I wait through the bad times because the good times are so neat."

Despite their breakup, she and Phil remain close friends and business partners.

Phil, a former journalist, invented the original three-wheeled Baby Jogger in his garage so he could run while caring for his son. Its huge wheels make for smooth pushing, even over obstacles like grass, gravel or sand.

The Baby Jogger quickly became popular and the Baechlers launched their company in 1984 - after they started getting requests from people who saw the stroller in action.

Racing Strollers has since grown into a concern with annual revenue of $5 million. It employs between 35 and 50 workers, depending on the time of year. The strollers start at $250 each and about 150,000 have been sold so far.

Mary, 38, said she initially became involved with the company in a minor way: "I was just going to help out and answer the phone." But her role grew, and she took over as president in 1986. Phil is vice president.

Mary said she never anticipated the company would grow so large.

"Some of it was luck, but the stroller is really neat. The early ones are like the Model T compared with today's Fords, but most are still running," she said.

The couple started to grow apart as Mary became more involved with building the company. Workdays soon turned into round-the-clock affairs with phone calls and orders coming in the middle of the night.

Mary says she always wanted to take the calls, arguing that good customer service demanded it. Her husband thought an answering machine at those hours was just fine.

It's a big dream of people to go into business together, but being business partners is so different from being marriage partners. ...

"Things that wouldn't be an issue in marriage can be a huge issue in a business, like the treatment of customers. And the odds the two would view the ethical calls on the business the same are small."

Psychologist Joyce Brothers says it was clear that Phil and Mary had become different people than they were before they started the company.

"If they had married each other in the same business then they would have known what they were getting into," Brothers said. "But they've grown and they changed. And the person they were married to isn't the same person they thought they were marrying."

Mary identifies herself strongly with the company.

"I really think our work is who we are," she said. "It's an extension of our being."

Phil, 45, also takes his work seriously. But he believes in life after work - a difficult thing with a growing business.

"There was so much going on we didn't have time for each other or a social life together," he said. "At some point, Mary made a conscious decision to put the business over the marriage. At the time, my overall feeling was one of frustration and disenchantment. ...

"I don't have any regrets. We had a lot of good years, raised a great family and created a great business," he said.