Creative Works Founder Jeff Schilling Leaves Behind a Legacy
How many business owners spend time actively thinking about their legacy? Most are so busy operating their businesses that they don’t take time to consider their purpose or why they are doing it.
For Jeff Schilling, founder of Creative Works, this topic became a focal point when he was diagnosed with cancer almost 4 years ago.
After courageously battling this disease with every ounce of strength he had, Jeff passed away on July 26 of this year. The legacy he leaves behind is one built on determination, gratitude, and love.
The Founding of Creative Works
Jeff took inspiration from his entrepreneurial grandfather and started Creative Works in 1997. Jeff was working in the laser tag industry and, at the time, most laser tag arenas were sterile spaces, lacking imagination and creativity.
Jeff saw an opportunity to reimagine and build a much better game environment. He transformed these static spaces into epic, movie-style sets where guests could become the heroes of their own journey. These immersive experiences delivered the WOW Effect, which would become the Creative Works cornerstone over the next 2 decades.
Under Jeff’s visionary leadership, the company expanded its product line to include many more attractions like indoor mini golf, escape rooms, laser mazes, virtual reality, and Esports. He worked with thousands of business owners all over the world and became ingrained in the amusement industry.
“He educated me about laser tag, and in the early years of the development of our brand, Jeff played a key role in introducing us to products he felt would enhance our concept,” commented Eddie Hamann, Managing Member of Andretti Indoor Karting and Games.
Creative Works started as an idea at his kitchen table and turned into an industry powerhouse with more than 60 employees and almost 50,000 square feet of office and production space. His attractions connect with tens of millions of people around the world each year.
“Jeff affected my life long before my journey began with Creative Works, as he built the laser tag for the facility I managed after school,” said Armando Lanuti, President of Creative Works. “Little did either of us know how our paths would continue to intertwine over the nearly 20 years since then.”
Jeff also believed in empowering operators through education to strengthen the industry as a whole. In 2011 he started the LaserTAG360 program, which today is called Amusement 360. These events were designed to bring the industry’s best together to educate, inspire, and share the tools for success.
Jeff’s impact went far beyond the business itself. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he was determined to share a message of positivity with those around him. He traveled the world with his wife, Kimberly, to learn from the best leaders in business, health, and mental strength. These lessons gave him a sense of gratitude for every moment, and he encouraged others to view life through this lens.
As he stated in a presentation during the 2019 F2FEC event, “When you have gratitude and appreciation, much can be done, much can be gained, and much can be shared.”
This sense of gratitude extended to those who knew Jeff well. “Our business relationship evolved into a friendship over the last 14 years and we are honored to call Jeff and Kim friends,” said Brian Smith, owner of Alley Cats Entertainment. “We are thankful for the time God allowed us to be in Jeff’s path and are in awe of Jeff and Kim’s courage as they embattled cancer together for several years.”
Jeff never hesitated to share. He became a mentor to others and helped foster their personal growth to create a lasting impact and force for good.
“What I remember the most about Jeff is his upbeat personality and the way he went about fighting this disease,” added Hamann. “A great business man but a better human being and friend.”
“Jeff was always open to bettering himself, his marriage, his company and his creativity,” said George Smith, President and CEO of Family Entertainment Group. “He left a legacy of quiet determination to be honest and open through the pain of life’s vicissitudes and to stop and enjoy the journey.”
Jeff’s legacy will live on through his wife Kimberly and the charity the two of them started in his final days. More details about this charity will be announced in the near future.
Armando will continue to lead the company and help create memorable experiences for millions of people around the world, building on the vision Jeff started over 22 years ago.
“Jeff’s friendship, mentorship, and partnership will be something that is sorely missed by myself and many others in the industry, but will carry on through the memories we have all created together,” added Armando.