They are the movers and the shakers, the wheelers and the dealers, the newsmakers who do the newsworthy. Bellingham business community heavy hitters are a special group, as are the people who stand beside and with them — the other halves, the significant others.
The saying, “Behind every great man is a great woman,” should be updated to read, “Behind every great business person is a great spouse.” The Bellingham Business Journal recently spoke with three of these people who have watched and helped their partners rise to new heights in their respective areas.
|Bryan Geschwhill met Erin Baker at Tony’s Coffee in Fairhaven in 1999, and the two were engaged five months later.|
Spouse: Erin Baker, 37; founder of Erin Baker’s Wholesome Baked Goods
Occupation: President, sales and marketing, Erin Baker’s Wholesome Baked Goods; owns computer company called Greenwich Networks based in New York City
Bryan Geschwill on Erin Baker: “She is very nurturing, I think … A lot of her staff have been here a long time, and they truly care for her.”
Erin Baker on Bryan Geschwill: “Bryan brought many, many key elements to the business that I was unable to bring because of my lack of experience.”
Erin Baker on meeting Geschwill: “I truly believe that we met just as much for business purposes as we met for personal purposes. We are just as successful as business partners as we are in our personal life … It was almost like this feeling of anxiety that if I did not make contact with him, it would be the biggest mistake I ever made.”
When Bryan Geschwill first tried one of Erin Baker’s Breakfast Cookies, he admits it wasn’t his cup of tea.
“When Erin first sent me the cookies, I didn’t really care for them,” said Geschwill, Erin Baker’s husband of five years. When the pair first started dating, Geschwill was a full-time resident of New York City, while Baker still lived in Bellingham. “Back east, I think, we have a sweeter palate. In the morning we’re all about carrot cake. It’s different.”
Soon, however, the 39-year-old changed his mind.
“Everybody in my (New York City) office got hooked on them,” he said. “So I started eating them, and I got hooked.”
Geschwill became equally hooked on Baker, to whom he got engaged just five months after meeting in late December of 1999. The two first noticed each other at Tony’s Coffee House in Fairhaven when Geschwill came to Bellingham to visit some high school and college friends for a winter vacation of snowboarding, something he had done since the early ‘90s.
Geschwill was eating breakfast with his friend when Baker and her mother sat down across the room from him. Baker left the establishment first, but not before leaving a business card — with a note on the back — with a shop employee to give to Geschwill, something she said she had never done before.
That card changed both their lives.
“I had never met anybody like Erin before,” said Geschwill, who was raised in Brooklyn and lived mostly in Manhattan. Baker, on the other hand, grew up on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands. The difference in their backgrounds was appealing, he said.
“When I met Erin … she had this very country-girl way about her,” he said. “I was very attracted to that. How she was raised was really very different than anything I had ever experienced before. I mean, she used to ride a pony to school.”
Her passion for her professional life also impressed him.
“She had such a belief in her business,” he said. “She used to talk about her work a lot, and I found that very interesting.”
By the time Geschwill entered her life, her company was already doing quite well. Baker started the company on Whidbey Island in 1994, making cookies by hand. As the years rolled by, the cookies became more popular and the business grew. At the time of their meeting, most of Baker’s business was direct to consumers, with limited distribution.
“But she had a thriving business in mail orders,” he said. “She was shipping cookies all over the country, and it was very popular with Weight Watchers.”
Almost seven years later, things have gotten even better.
Now her company distributes around the country, selling at grocery stores, gyms, cafes and other establishments nationwide. A lot of her company’s transformation, said Baker, had to do with the arrival of Geschwill as a part of the business in 2001. He now co-owns the company with Baker.
Her toughness — and her vision — continues to impress him.
“She’s been through a lot. She almost died (of medical issues in the late 1990s), but survived all that, then made a business making cookies by hand,” he said. “Since I’ve known her she’s just always seemed very blessed to me.”
|Ken Imus met his wife, Barbara, when they were both teenagers in Bellingham.|
Spouse: Ken Imus, 80, Fairhaven developer
Occupation: Stay-at-home mother
Family: Two sons: Brad, 55, and Tim 52
Barbara Imus on Ken Imus: “I think it’s come easier for him — not that he hasn’t worked hard … He seems to be able to make good decisions at the right time, and see the potential for things. And he’s still seeing the potential for things.”
Ken Imus on Barbara Imus: “She’s the love of my life. It’s really been a joy and we’ve had a great life. She was always very supportive. To succeed and grow in business, it does take a certain amount of energy and time.”
It has been a while since Barbara and Ken Imus first met. So long, in fact, that Barbara admits she has trouble remembering some of the details regarding former places of residence and durations of jobs.
She has no problem, however, remembering why she was attracted to Ken Imus.
“You just are attracted to someone,” Barbara Imus said. “He was two years older than me. He was busy, and he was positive — just a nice guy. You meet a lot of people and you don’t feel that way about them, and you meet somebody else and you do.”
After her freshman year of college, in 1948, she and Ken were married.
At the time, Ken was working with cars — an industry he is still involved with to this day.
“That was just his thing,” she said. “When we got married, he was opening his own body shop.”
About a year after getting married, the newlyweds left for Eureka, Calif., where Ken got a job working at a body shop. Within two months, they were off again, this time to San Jose, Calif., where Ken worked for an automobile dealership. While there, he worked his way up to becoming manager — which proved to be a pivotal point for the couple.
From there, they moved to Dallas, Texas for two years — where Ken continued his professional rise and had his own Ford dealership — and then across the state to El Paso, where Ken owned and operated a Ford dealership for the better part of a decade. The couple eventually settled in Los Altos Hills, Calif., where they lived until seven years ago before moving back to Bellingham. Ken still owns a Ford dealership property in California.
Along the way, the couple had two sons; Brad, who is president of Ken’s development company, Jacaranda Corporation; and Tim, who owns Fairhaven Land Development, LLC. It was during the 1970s that Imus looked north to Bellingham’s Fairhaven District.
“We didn’t talk about coming back (when we left Bellingham),” she said. “At the time when you’re young, you’re not thinking ahead to that kind of thing, but it just kept evolving because he moved from one thing and then stepped up to the next thing.”
The sacrifices have been challenging for everyone, she said.
“I think it’s a little harder on a wife when (his) hours are spent with whatever (it may be),” she said. “If he’s not busy in Fairhaven, he’s busy looking at land elsewhere.”
In her mind, it has all been worth the effort.
“I think so. I really do,” she said. “We’ve met a lot of wonderful people, we’ve had lots of fun experiences. I don’t really think we’d trade it for anything.”
|Joe Scherting met his wife, Trudy, on Red Square when both were students at WWU.|
Spouse: Trudy Scherting, 53; founder of Moka Joe Coffee
Occupation: Registered nurse
Family: Two daughters: Courtney, 17; and Julia, 15
Joe Scherting on Trudy Scherting: “Our relationship as a couple is always something totally above and around (our business) … It’s only a business. As much hard work as it is and how dedicated she is to it, we have something much more important than that.”
Trudy Scherting on Joe Scherting: “He’s the kindest, most loving, gentle man that I know. He’s just wonderful. He has been a wonderful experience added to my life for 33 years, and we’re looking forward to many years together. He’s a wonderful father and husband. He’s a gentle force for sure.”
This past summer, Trudy Scherting, owner and founder of Moka Joe Coffee, traveled to Peru with her oldest daughter, Courtney, to see a place where the lifeblood of her company — the coffee bean — originates.
According to her company’s Web site, the organic, fair-trade coffee grown there — called Café Femenino Coffee — is produced by women in remote communities high in the Andes Mountains.
Moka Joe Coffee, a small batch, wholesale micro-roaster of specialty gourmet coffees, is a supporter of The Café Femenino Foundation, an organization that strives to empower women in rural Peru. According to the company’s Web site, “Contributions are made to Café Feminino with every bag sold.”
The trip to Peru helped Trudy see firsthand the people behind her product, said Joe Scherting, Trudy’s husband.
“Trudy was really humbled (on the trip),” he said. “This was (a way) to connect to the people this business truly benefits, besides having good coffee … She made that real close connection to the women that grow this coffee.”
Her approach to business and life are one and the same, he said.
“In (the business books we’ve read), a principle is to make the business an extension of who you are,” he said. “That’s really what this business is — an extension of what Trudy is.”
The company, which Trudy estimates is one of only a dozen roasters in the country that are 100 percent fair-trade and organic, started in Bellingham in early 2001, and has grown steadily every year. Currently, the business roasts about 8,000 pounds of coffee per month, and that number is rising.
“We’re going up anywhere from 30 percent to 40 percent to 50 percent per year — especially in the last three years since we purchased a larger roaster,” Joe said. In his off-time from his full-time job as a nurse, Joe roasts coffee at the company and helps to raise the couple’s two daughters, Courtney and Julia.
The couple has been married 26 years after meeting on Red Square at Western Washington University in early 1973. After their first encounter, “everything changed from there,” he said.
“Her spirit. I guess just her energy and her zest for life and how she looked at the world,” said Joe of what attracted him to Trudy. “We just sort of grew up together, really. There was just a special sort of spark that was there, and is still there.”
The pair moved to Bellingham in 1992, and the idea for Moka Joe started with a real estate scouting trip to Samish Island. While looking, Trudy — surprise, surprise — wanted a cup of coffee.
“The Realtor she was with said there was a lady up the road who roasted her own coffee. From that point, Trudy met the woman,” he said. And — long story short — the company idea was born.
What is not a short story is the time and energy Trudy has put into the company, Joe said.
“I think that she’s definitely a hard worker. She is committed to what she has started with this company. It’s because she is true to why she is doing the business,” he said. “I think it’s been difficult, in the sense of hard work. In any business, there are obstacles you don’t foresee.”