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Cheryl & Mark Richards

Executive Mergers

About a quarter of a century ago, Mark Richards, recently divorced and the founder and chief executive officer of diesel engine filter manufacturer Racor Industries Inc., saw a vision in the Modesto, Calif., company’s waiting room.

When they are not discussing business, Mark and Cheryl like to relax in their Big Island home or Waikiki condominium – and read the Wall Street Journal.

“Here was this goddess – white pants, green sweater, blond hair – just beautiful. I was in instant love,” Richards says.

She was hired to be Racor’s receptionist, but future wife Cheryl was less impressed with Richards. “I didn’t like him,” she admits, her voice dropping to a whisper. “He was one of those cool, flirty (types) – I’d hear him on the phone with all of his lines. This was back in the late ’70s – the open shirt, the gold chain …”

Cheryl became Mark’s executive assistant and, over several years, got tired of telling women he broke dates with that Mark was “called out of town on a meeting.”

“I was covering for him all the time. I mean, you know, this is too much work. I’m just going to marry the guy and not have to deal with this any more,” she says with a laugh.

That was 21 years ago. Since then, the Richards sold Racor, moved to Kona and founded the first of the Maryl (Mark and Cheryl, get it?) group of companies, Maryl Development Inc., in 1998. Together, they built Maryl Group Inc. – with subsidiaries Maryl Development, Maryl Pacific Construction Inc., Maryl Architecture & Planning and Maryl Realty Inc. – into a statewide-integrated company that had 2001 gross sales of $78 million, for a rank of No. 80 on Hawaii Business’ Top 250 list.

Mark is the president and chief executive officer. Cheryl is vice president. Cheryl says, “I’ve been called the softer side of Maryl,” yet Mark is the one who tears up twice during this interview. They attribute the successful combination of their personal and business lives to a couple of things: Being best friends and loving to spend time with each other 24/7. Mark says it’s been that way from the beginning of their marriage. “Our identity, our lives are intertwined around all of this. It’s who we are. There are no separations. There are no degrees of change from one side to the other. It’s all wrapped up in one big, fuzzy ball,” he says.

That hasn’t changed with Maryl’s ballistic growth over the last few years, either. Says Mark: “The fuzzy ball just got bigger.”

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Hawaii Business,December