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Schell Brothers' Approach to Finding Happiness

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Builder of the Year

Schell Brothers' Approach to Finding Happiness

Who says a home building business can't provide the opportunity to find and practice happiness?

By Rich Binsacca, Edittorial Director December 8, 2023
2023 Builder of the Year Schell Brothers happy employees
At Schell Brothers, Pro Builder's 2023 Builder of the Year, happiness provides the underpinnings of the company's approach to business. | All images: courtesy Schell Brothers

Chris Schell isn’t always comfortable talking about what led him to seek a life and vocation centered on happiness. “It’s hard for me to talk about it because it makes me feel what I felt back then,” he says.

“Back then” was 2002. Settling into a lucrative career as a hedge fund manager after graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Business School, Chris began suffering from anxiety that eventually escalated to panic attacks. 

“I felt like I had been given this false dream and followed it, and it was making me miserable,” he says. “And so it made me think, What do I really want from life? Because this is not what I want.”

Through his soul-searching, he says, “I realized that the answer to the ultimate question of what you want from life is to be happy.” 


It was a revelation that allowed Chris to hand over his company to his business partner the day after a particularly bad panic attack and start a journey of understanding happiness and where it might lead him. 

Chris and his wife, Lori (pictured with him, below), moved to Rehoboth Beach, Del., where Chris’ family had spent summers and his identical twin brother, Preston, owned a development company. He walked on the beach, read self-help books, reconnected with his old lifeguard pals, and kept a happiness journal to make notes about what makes him happy (or doesn’t). 

2023 Builder of the Year Schell Brothers CEO Chris Schell with his wife, Lori.


When Preston mentioned he was thinking of starting a general contracting business to support his residential development deals, Chris saw an opportunity to perhaps find and practice happiness. “One of the things I liked about building homes was it was the exact opposite of using computers to make money for investors,” he says. “Whatever I decided to do, I knew it had to be creating something real, something significant.”

But after days spent crafting a heartfelt email to Preston about why Chris should run the new company, Chris says his twin quickly and emphatically shot him down: “His reply was, ‘I know nothing about construction, but I know 10 times more than you do. No!’”

Eventually Chris wore Preston down and Schell Brothers was launched on the premise of happiness. “Because of my personal experience and what I’d decided was my life’s new purpose, I wanted Schell Brothers to be extremely different.” 

2023 Builder of the Year Schell Brothers' CEO Chris Schell gives a hug


And at what point did the happiness come? “For me, there wasn’t any point in time when I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m happy!’ But we do try to reflect and focus on the good in our lives,” he says. One way Chris does that is to put himself mentally in his previous life. “It makes it easier to appreciate where I am now.” 


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Written By
Editorial Director

Rich Binsacca is editorial director of Pro Builder Media, Custom Builder, and PRODUCTS. He has reported and written about all aspects of the housing industry since 1987 and most recently was editor-in-chief of Pro Builder Media. rbinsacca@sgcmail.com


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