The Woman Behind FINE
As FINE celebrates women's history month, we thought it was long overdue to recognize the woman who sold the very first project, and was the driving force in our origin story.
If you know FINE, you probably know the story of how our three partners -- Kenn and Steve Fine (two brothers from Detroit) and their good friend Josh Kelly -- came together and created a branding empire, and entered the digital space before the internet was really a thing. To make this happen, Kenn sold his cycling apparel company, Steve veered away from a future in medicine, and Josh quit his fancy job at Visa.
What you probably don't know is how FINE really started and the sacrifices made for the sake of building a brand (and legacy) that's stood the test of time. For that, we take you back to FINE’s roots as a two-person San Francisco startup and introduce you to none other than Kenn’s partner in life and wife extraordinaire, Yonette Fine.
What was your motivation behind FINE? And how are you so humble about your role as a founder?
“I saw the artistic talent, creative eye and intelligence in Kenn from the first day we met in 1988. While he was clear that he could choose any career, so long as it was a lawyer or doctor, as lovingly suggested by his family, I encouraged him to go into a field that used his creative talent. My rationale was that he had 1 client, and I was “making all of the money in San Francisco” working as an Account Executive at KMEL radio, so we had nothing to lose and were already on the road to success. That was 1994. By 1995 Kenn had worked his magic on me and I joined him as VP of Client Services (I think that was my original title) at the newly renamed Fine Design Group. As you know, a Creative Director + VP of Client Services = a “real” design firm. Working 7 days a week, 17 hrs a day for nearly 5 years allowed us to create a client base that I still marvel at. For the first year we had no portfolio so it was a lot of fast talking to get us in the door! Once in the door, Kenn took it from there. We make a stellar team. See...I’m not so humble afterall. Ha!”
How did you make the decision and transition from sales and business development to motherhood?
“It was a very difficult decision. I was born a “producer”, so the thought of not being in production mode in a business setting was scary and I didn't know how that actually even worked. I’ve had a job since I was 15, so to think of not working at 30...well I didn’t know it was something a person could do. However, once we realized that our baby girl was at an age where she needed to be instilled with our parenting style, the decision was made. Also, I believed a creative director was more difficult to replace than a client service person, so it made most sense for me to run point on the daily parenting thing. I realized that my sales and business management skills married quite well with parenting ;)"
20 years later you're a successful broker at Living Room Realty. What inspired your transition back to the workforce and real estate?
“Well, once we decided I would run things domestically, we went “all in” on the full family, and had three kiddos. When our youngest was liberated and feeling comfortable’ish in school, I was physically and mentally ready to return to a business environment with adults and adult conversation. I remember Kenn saying, “You can do anything you want for work, but take your time, it can be challenging to narrow down your options”. He was SO right. It took a year to get my compass pointed in the right direction. The funny thing is, Kenn had been suggesting real estate for 10 years. He thought I was made for industry, and it turns out he was right! Nothing better than hiking, sipping tea or grabbing happy hour with “your people”, and helping them get in and out of homes. With my status as “semi-retired” when we arrived in Portland 12 years back, most of my friends were actually retired and aged 65-85. That, combined with three kids in three different schools for 4 years, created a personal sphere that covered people in all categories of homeownership. I worked my first year on a wonderful team at Keller Williams, and was fortunate to meet the red-haired powerhouse behind Living Room Realty, Jenelle Isaacson. After 2 hours in her presence, I knew where I needed to hang my license. It's been a wonderful ride and I see myself happily helping friends with their real estate for many years to come.”
How do you balance pressure to be an amazing mother and powerhouse professional? What have you had to sacrifice?
“Wow! Thanks for the kind words. It means alot, because you don’t often receive payment or accolades for parenting. Well, I prefer the sacrifices I make are focused in areas that don’t compromise my family. So, I am actually a “part-time” real estate agent. I rise at 6am to workout at home, then, we do the morning kids lunch prep and breakfast routine, and Kenn runs out the door, kids in tow, while I head straight to work. Once I grab the youngest from school, I am all theirs, with rare exception, until we all gather for “homework party”. This is where I can do a little paperwork, but, I like to be available for helping the boys with any homework support needed. Then we have activities (parkour, judo, hip hop, whatever) and dinner. Then we repeat… So, some sacrifices are late night events, not as much “free” time with Kenn, 1.5 hrs extra sleep nightly.”
Speaking of power, let’s talk more about that…What does the idea of power mean to you?
“Power means freedom of choice in all areas of my life.”
Which powerful women do you admire the most?
“Well, there are too many to list, but I believe I am drawn to a type of powerful woman. The type that works hard to sculpt the life she wants for herself and family, but has the vision and unwavering passion to sculpt a better life for others. I am fortunate enough to be in the presence of many of these women in my daily life….at work, on the OMSI Board, in my social circle and right here at FINE. “
How has being a woman of color influenced your experience in the workplace?
“For me, being a woman of color seems to take a back seat to the level of service delivered in the workplace. This is something I noticed all the way back to my first job as a shoe salesperson. If I knew my facts about all of the shoes, I could lead my client to the best shoe for their needs. Once we found the shoe, I could focus on creating the best fit for their specific foot. Sometimes that meant stretching the shoe or pounding out a particular spot to accommodate their bunion. Not the sexiest, but it was all about the client’s needs. This stayed true through my jobs at the front desk at the Hyatt Regency in SF and the radio station. Know your product, know your client and have the confidence to deliver. I can’t recall a time where being a woman of color influenced my ability to deliver.”
How can people be better allies in the workplace to decrease systemic barriers and promote inclusion for women of color?
“I am not the best person to ask, as I just treat people the same. I don’t know how my parents actually taught this to my sister and I, but we treat the folks that help us at the grocery or gas station the same as we treat a fellow board member or CEO of a well known company. I guess I would suggest the kindergarten basics...treat people the way you want to be treated, and smile every now and again. I want to be clear that I know there are women of all colors that struggle in the workplace, and I don’t want to diminish their experience, but these systemic barriers and lack of inclusion have not been my story, so I can’t speak to that.”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Sleep on it…”
What are you most proud of?
“What?! Are you kiddin’? I am proud of all things FINE!”
By Mackenzie Pion, Chief Hype Officer at FINE