Business

What Happens to the Marriage When Both People Conquer the Corner Office?

How five couples manage the messiness of love, work, and play in Boston right now.


Photo by David Yellen

FAMILY FIRST
Bekah and Zac Salwasser

Hometown: Dorchester
Her Job: Executive Director of the Red Sox Foundation
His Job: Senior Software Engineer at Akamai Technologies

When Bekah Salwasser interviewed for her position with the Red Sox, she was clear about her priorities. “I literally led with ‘You guys want me…but you need to know that my family will always come first in every decision, in every single day of my life,” she recalls. “I am a mom first to my kids and then I will be the executive director here. That does not devalue my investment in making sure my role here is successful, that the organization is successful, but at the end of the day I need to be there for my family. And especially now when they’re so young.”

From the start, she says, Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy had her back when it came to her family life—which includes three young children ages five, three, and one. That support continues at home with husband Zac, whom she’s known since their school days at Buckingham Browne & Nichols in Cambridge. As the son of a mother who doubled as a successful lawyer, the Akamai Technologies programmer says he has no issues at times playing a supporting role to his leading lady, the executive director of one of the largest and most successful professional sports charities in the country. “I absolutely think that there’s a lot of ego things that I don’t
have to deal with because I’m kind of used to this arrangement,” he explains. “I’m perfectly happy to yield the mindshare of who’s in charge of stuff in our family.”

Divvied up evenly between parents, that to-do list goes a little something like this: Over the weekend, the two schedule the meals to cook for the week when they go grocery-shopping together, then hang the list on the refrigerator in their single-family Dorchester home and start ticking off items. In the mornings, Zac hops on the T with their two boys, Calvin and Niko, drops them at school, and continues on to Kendall; Bekah, meanwhile, takes their daughter, Evie, to daycare, then it’s off to Fenway. Zac has more flexibility in his work schedule, so he often takes the night shift at home when Bekah has a late game, but Bekah also sets clear limits at work, leaving at 4:15 p.m. three days a week so she can pick up Evie and be home for dinner with the family. She’ll miss an event if she feels she’s been away from her babies for longer than she’s comfortable with, which she’s learning is more than a couple of nights a week. “I think in many ways my ability to be a great mom translates into my ability to be a great boss,” she says, “from an empathic perspective and obviously all the skills that every mom has to have: the multitasking, the triaging, all of that helps.”

Bekah sees her mother as a role model, having raised five children born within a 12-year span while she was working for Boston Public Schools. They lived on a tight budget in a North Cambridge house with no heat. Wood was delivered, chopped, and packed by the whole family; coal was stored in the basement and the kids shoveled it into the kitchen stove as needed. Bekah’s mom, a beekeeper, prepared meals using ingredients from the urban farm she’d planted for her family. It taught Bekah the value of hard work, and also of selflessness. “[My mom] was having a kid about every two years, and I don’t remember her ever breaking down about having to do all of our laundry, cook for all of us, get us all to all of these places,” she explains. “She held it all down with so much grace, so for me that’s just how you do it. I know it’s possible, so I can say to myself: I can do this.”

One generation later, Bekah is now the one setting an example both at home and when she’s out and about in Boston. At professional events, she makes a point to introduce herself as the executive director of the Red Sox Foundation and the mother of three small children, reminding the other power players in the room that she’s juggling it all and making it work.

Photo by David Yellen

THE MINDFUL MARRIAGE 
April Soderstrom and Ben Rawitz

Hometown: Back Bay
Her Job: Founder of April Soderstrom Jewelry
His Job: Tom Brady’s Manager

When April Soderstrom found out she was pregnant, her husband, Ben Rawitz, knew the very best prenatal vitamins to recommend: After all, as Tom Brady’s manager since 2008, he’d already researched the top brands for a certain world-famous supermodel/quarterback’s wife. “I remember when Tom went on his first date with [Gisele Bündchen],” he says. “I lived with them for five years.” Even today, he says, he catches himself following their example in his own life—more so now that he’s a father. The power duo, he says, is “truly the most in-love couple I’ve ever seen.”

A brand visionary, Ben is best known for his role running Brady’s business ventures, but these days he’s also helping develop the brand of another VIP: his wife, who is the founder and designer of a jewelry company bearing her name. “I’m in awe of her artistic abilities,” Ben says. “I get excited for Lex [Lennox, the couple’s infant son] to grow up and be like, ‘My mom is a badass entrepreneur, grinding away.’ When I’m home and I see her with the kid strapped to her, bouncing at her desk while making jewelry and typing on her computer, I’m like, it’s unbelievable.”

April, who was filling jewelry orders two days after the birth of their only child, acknowledges she needs more help at work. But with Ben as an unofficial member of the team, she isn’t as nervous about the future as some entrepreneurs might be: He can focus on promoting the April Soderstrom brand—getting Gisele and Julian Edelman to wear her pieces—and she can focus on her art. “I would love to just make jewelry all the time, and Ben’s very business-focused,” she explains.

Meanwhile, the couple spends plenty of time nurturing their own personal brand, working to keep the flame alive amid their busy day-to-day lives. Inside their Back Bay walkup condo, dinner is a time of collaboration and appreciation. Before they eat they hold hands. They acknowledge each other—which they explain carries
more weight than simply thanking someone—for making dinner, for doing something funny, for being a family. Ben tries to put his phone away and concentrate exclusively on April. She listens and tries to offer advice, and he does the same. Brands, careers, and family are all nurtured at the last meal of the day.

Paying attention to each other is at the heart of the couple’s success. Ben leaves April little messages around the apartment on pink sticky notes, such as “Good morning, I hope you’re feeling a bit better. Love you,” and “Good morning Lex, Love you (ask Mom to read this to you).” They keep a copy of the book Journey to the Heart next to their couch, and every now and then pull it out and read a passage. It’s another way they connect and tend to their relationship.

Ben admits he had to tone down his single-minded interest in all things Brady when he married April in August 2017. As his work has grown into managing TB12’s business ventures inside the NFL and out, he’s hired other people—including his younger brother—to help with the day-to-day. He calls everyone’s favorite QB his best friend and says he understands the need to take a step back—he’s a dad and husband, too. “I like to problem-solve everything. Everything’s kind of a little task to me,” Ben says. “I take it personally to be the best husband, to be the best father, to be the best son-in-law, to be the best…” April interjects with a smile: “At our first appointment with the doctor when we were pregnant, Ben literally said to the doctor, ‘We’re going to be your favorite patients.’ I’m like, ‘Really?’”

“Yeah, I guess it’s a confidence thing because I’ll tell everybody, I take pride in it,” Ben says, turning to me. “I want to be your best couple interview.”

Photo by David Yellen

LOVE AND LISTS
Julie and Neel Shah

Hometown: Cambridge
Her Job: Head of the Interactive Robotics Group at MIT
His Job: Director of the Delivery Decisions Initiative at Ariadne Labs

Julie Shah is an MIT rocket scientist who deploys robots to factories that build planes and cars; Neel Shah is an obstetrician who, in addition to delivering babies, helps hospitals reduce high C-section rates as part of Atul Gawande’s brain trust. Both are professors, at MIT and Harvard, respectively. But before they were a power couple in Boston, Julie and Neel were just two kids riding in a van with four other students to the local community college that housed their magnet charter high school.

“Neel was undateable back then,” says Julie, nine months pregnant with the couple’s second child at the time of this interview. “He was kind of annoying. We were good friends, but he would drive me nuts.”

“To be fair, everyone was friends,” Neel explains, contextualizing her backhanded compliment. “It was all very high school.”

At the time, their small New Jersey charter school was kind of an experiment—one that by all accounts produced two high-performing students in Neel and Julie. Neel jokes he’s not really sure how it all happened; he mostly remembers playing a lot of guitar. But he also has a clear memory of Julie as the only girl in many of the tough math and science classes. Julie knew then that she was going to be a rocket scientist when she grew up. “And now, she is! And I’ve seen the whole thing,” says Neel, beaming with pride.

When they parted ways—he went to Brown, and she to MIT—they missed each other. “When you’re in Providence you come up to Boston for parties, so that’s what I did,” Neel explains. “But it turned out that Brown has better parties than MIT, so we started swapping weekends.” The two found themselves schlepping between Providence and Cambridge, and by December of their freshman year, they were an item.

The Shahs have come a long way since then, having reached the tops of their games professionally while nurturing a family at home. Systems people at heart, they’ve done it by figuring out how to work the system to their advantage.

When Julie was pregnant with their two-year-old son, Luca, the pair moved from their South End brownstone to their current home: a brand-new apartment inside a dorm on MIT’s Cambridge campus, where they are dorm parents to 700 students. One could easily assume this role would be more of a burden than a help, but the Shahs love their new lifestyle. “Most of the job is just letting people know that we care about them,” Neel says. “Then every once in a while, there’s a student who really, really is in trouble, but…you make a big difference, and that feels good. Then in other ways, it’s so much easier because we have all of this built-in support.” Namely, a great daycare a short walk away and a catering kitchen inside their apartment complete with weekly visits from a private MIT chef who whips up spreads for student gatherings (and, usually, two extra meals for Julie and Neel to enjoy at their choosing). “We get to invite somebody cool to have dinner with our students [once a month],” Neel says. “So, we have Mike Dukakis and Kitty come over. We’ve had astronauts come over.”

The couple also employs an au pair to help soften the edges of their busy schedules. Every Sunday, the three of them sit down and outline their week to ensure that everyone—even Sydney the dog—is accounted for on a Google doc that is now “probably hundreds of pages long,” Neel says.

Julie, for her part, seems to think of family logistics as a game or a puzzle. She knows everything needs to get done, and the process of figuring out how is fun for her. Neel is happy to let her take the lead in that respect. “Julie is much better than me at most things when it comes to having clarity. It’s actually kind of an amazing thing,” he says. “She has this discipline; she makes a list and then executes.”

“That’s true—that’s how I live my life,” Julie says with a laugh.

“She thinks in lists,” Neel says, adding, “I think in exploding clouds. And somehow this works.”

Photo by David Yellen

TAKING IT ONE POWERPOINT AT A TIME
Tamar Dane Dor-Ner and Dan Krockmalnic

Hometown: Newtonville
Her Job: Managing Partner at Bain & Company’s Boston office
His Job: General Counsel for the Boston Globe

Tamar Dane Dor-Ner’s expectations for herself as the mother of two sons, ages five and seven, are clearly outlined in a PowerPoint presentation. They include: “Eating together, they are warm, we have a blast trick-or-treating…they can count on me, they always know the plan. We have morning dance parties…they see work as something to love and take pride in, they know households can work lots of different ways, they are kind to each other, to their parents, to everyone else. I take care of myself—sleep, exercise, therapy.” She also has a list of things that don’t matter: “I did the cooking, they are fashionable, I make costumes from scratch…I am physically present 100 percent of the time.”

These slides aren’t just for our interview. They’re an honest look at Tamar’s role as a mother and a boss, which she presented to the staff at Bain & Company when she recently took over as head of the Boston office. She says she learned from two decades at the company that there can be a martyr-like quality attributed to those who prioritize work above all else, while those who manage to have a good work/life balance are mostly quiet about it. She’s out to change that.

“There’s a super-easy vicious spiral when I feel I’m doing a lousy job at work,” Tamar says, sitting in the kitchen of her Newtonville Colonial. “I push everything else aside and work myself extremely hard, because then at least I can say to myself, ‘Well, I’m working as hard as I possibly can, so what more could they possibly want?’ And, in that sleep-deprived myopia, I don’t get any better at my job. I get miserable and unable to take criticism…. So you’d better have a broader platform to talk about what it means to be healthy and productive. It comes from…experience that the other way doesn’t work.”

Her husband, Dan Krockmalnic, couldn’t agree more. In fact, he clearly remembers being impressed by a conversation back when they were dating, during which Tamar mentioned her stance on maintaining boundaries at work. “She said that part of what had defined her success was her…outspokenness at setting limits on how much she was willing to do. She told them, ‘If this is going to work for you, this is what I’m willing to do, this is what will make me happy. And if not, okay. I’m going to find something else.’ And that, that was the limit.”

As general counsel to the Boston Globe, Dan has a full-time staff of one to help him deal with all of the legal issues the local paper of record faces. While he praises the Globe’s outside First Amendment attorney and other outside counsel he calls on, make no mistake: If there’s a crisis involving personnel, print, or anything else, Dan’s the first line of defense. Which is why the couple often finds themselves on their “second shift,” working from two white wingback chairs in front of the TV after they’ve put the kids to bed. But Dan’s serious about his work/life balance, too, and this past Red Sox season that meant a lot of time at Fenway. His face lights up when he talks about where he was for each World Series and that time he got to sit in John Henry’s dugout seats.

In addition to their work boundaries, the couple has set boundaries for themselves as parents, limiting what they’re willing to feel bad about. “The world is sort of pummeling you with expectations as a parent,” Tamar says. “You better pick what yours are and then just meet those, because otherwise you’ll be feeling bad and guilty, and frankly, guilt as a parent leads to all sorts of worse stuff, right?”

They also get by with a little help from their housekeeper, Debbie, who cleans, acts as backup childcare, and also cooks and does laundry for Tamar’s sister and Dan’s parents. The meals are prepared in bulk at the couple’s house while the laundry is washing. Then the meals and clothes are delivered, and new laundry is picked up. Debbie also sometimes brings her three kids over to their house to hang with the boys while she’s working. “This is a lot of working moms working together,” Tamar says. “It’s a village system. I know it seems very complicated, but it’s very flexible for Debbie…. She’s able to do her own pickup and drop-off for her, for her kids. It makes life possible for all of us.”

Photo by David Yellen

CALENDAR COUPLE
Sam Mazzarelli and Jonathan Soroff

Hometown: Newton
Sam’s Job: Senior Vice President, Weber Shandwick
Jonathan’s Job: Columnist, the Improper Bostonian

On February 20, 2016, two men who usually find themselves in large crowds opted instead for solitude. In one of the city’s grandest locations, Boston Symphony Hall, Sam Mazzarelli and Jonathan Soroff legalized their union before 2,625 empty chairs.

The empty hall was in stark contrast to Sam and Jonathan’s usual habitat of parties packed with A-listers vying for a mention in Jonathan’s Improper Bostonian column or an introduction made by Sam, a power-broker publicist. As two of the most social members of Boston society, the pair had been together for 10 years when they decided to tie the knot. But they didn’t invite any friends. It was a private moment for the public-facing couple intended exclusively for them.

Jonathan, especially, enjoyed their newlywed status. “Right after we got married we went skiing in Deer Valley,” Jonathan says. “And, you know, Utah is a very conservative place and I remember being in the bar at the Montage Hotel and somebody saying, ‘Is this seat taken?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, my husband is sitting there.’ And, they gave me kind of a funny look and I was like, ‘No…it’s my husband, and I’m not using that word in the cutesy way!’”

Jonathan is more informed on cutesy monikers than most, having coined some of the cleverest nicknames for local darlings on the gala circuit in his column. In the early days of their relationship, he and Sam, who was a publicist for Marlo Marketing before moving on to Weber Shandwick five years ago, often found themselves at the same event, and soon their work and romantic lives were intertwined.

In addition to their jobs, which call at all hours, the couple joins forces for causes they care deeply about and are involved in dozens of charitable organizations around town. Jonathan—long rumored to have a body double as the only explanation for how one man can attend multiple events in the same night—has occasionally resorted to volunteering his husband for committees as a way of guaranteeing they have to go to the same events. “That’s a big bone of contention,” Jonathan says. “I’ll be like, ‘You have to come to this one because you’re on the committee.’ And Sam is like, ‘Wait, I didn’t know that. I didn’t sign up for that.’”

Both men agree that a lot of their decision-making about which events to put in the calendar comes down to personal relationships. There are some Boston socialites, such as Julie Gordon, Kristina Lyons, and Tonya Mezrich, that you just don’t say no to. But Jonathan says that at this point in his career he knows how to pick and choose, whereas when he was younger he went to everything he was invited to. His expert opinions aren’t lost on Sam, who plans culinary and art events around the world promoting his biggest clients, Perrier and Pellegrino. In fact, while Jonathan is hobnobbing in Boston, Sam is often hosting celebrity chef’s dinners in Milan, San Francisco, and other hot spots. “I feel lucky,” Sam says. “I have a pretty fun work-travel life.”

With such hectic schedules, it’s a miracle that Sam and Jonathan can keep track of where the other is on any given night. Sam likes his schedule laid out in digital form, but he recently acquiesced to having an old-school wall calendar hung in the kitchen of their Newton home. Jonathan is a visual person who tracks all of his happenings with pen and paper. They try to sit down at the beginning of each month and go through their calendars, attempting to plan some downtime. Sometimes the goal of the conversation is simply to help them mentally prepare for long stretches without any breaks.

“We left last Friday [for a friend’s party on the Vineyard],” Sam says. “I reminded Jonathan that we were coming home to dinner plans every single night until Sunday. And then I leave for New York Monday through Wednesday. Then we have Thursday here and then we’re gone Friday through Monday for [a friend’s] birthday. At least it helps to know how bad it’s going to be.”

Both men may be incredibly social, but Sam says he needs time to recharge, whereas Jonathan could keep going forever. “If Jonathan had his way, he would throw a dinner party every single weekend,” Sam says. “I like my time on the couch watching Netflix.”

One thing they both agree on: making time for travel. A recent trip to Norway was a favorite in part because they were alone, with no schedule and the freedom of the open road. Exploring the world, knowing that a busy calendar awaits their return, suits them just fine.