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Family Business: Kacey Fine Furniture's President Leslie Fishbein

Her self-deprecating sense of humor belies the sharp business sense Leslie Fishbein brings to the family business she plays a key role in as president. Launched in the ###50s by Fishbein###s father and mother, Jack and Shirley Barton, today Kacey Fine Furniture operates six stores in Colorado, offering what she describes as middle to upper-middle to high-end resource for total home packages. As president, Fishbein guides day-to-day operations, is responsible for profit and loss and directs merchandising, among other responsibilities. In an age of specialization, she remains a generalist. "I do a lot of things," she laughs. "Probably a lot of things not very well." Fishbein###s husband, Sam, is CEO. Fishbein speaks this week to the Colorado Women###s Chamber of Commerce (go to for more info).

A Denver native, Fishbein jokes that she###s one of the few people who will have been born, lived, and probably will have died within a 20-mile radius. She graduated from George Washington High School and attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she majored in humanities and fine arts. "I would have majored in interior design, but it wasn###t available at the time," she says. "I didn###t want to be an architect. I was toying with going to law school, but then I had to take some time off for medical reasons and afterwards I decided to go into the family business. I got married and my husband worked with me."

Working in a family business is a unique experience, Fishbein notes. "Candace Bergen talked about it in her book in relation to her father###s dummy. Charlie McCarthy became a member of the family. The family business becomes an entity that really is placed first because it###s the family###s sustenance. For example, I###ve always eaten dinner late because of store hours, and it was very common for me to meet my mom and dad for lunch."

When Fishbein joined the business, in 1976, it was still fairly small, so she gained experience in everything from selling to merchandising to buying. Her sister also works in the business part-time in display and merchandising. Her mother is involved in selling and merchandising, while her father heads up marketing and advertising.

While Fishbein###s mediums in college were painting and sculpture, today she likes to say that instead of a flat canvas she works in three dimensions. "I get enough creativity through the textiles and physical things we work with," she says. "I am sorry I didn###t get a business degree, however."

In 1992 Kacey began using a financial literacy and open book management program called the Great Game of Business that involves all employees in understanding a company###s financials. Today Kacey continues to go over its financials frequently with its employees. To encourage them to think and act like owners, the family donated stock to a trust and created an Employee Stock Ownership Program. The trust can buy stock, and as employees retire, quit, or are terminated, they can redeem their stock.

Kacey Fine Furniture maintains a strong community presence, donating to such community organizations as the Children###s Diabetes Foundation, the Women###s Vision Foundation, The Alzheimer###s Foundation, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, The Children###s Hospital, Family Tree, Special Olympics, and many others.

In some respects, Fishbein has escaped the the struggles of some women executives by working in a family business. "I haven###t had a corporate environment," she notes, and "there hasn###t been a glass ceiling." About 60% of Kacey###s employees are female. Fishbein notes that in a study of 68,000 furniture storefronts, excluding department stores or channels such as Wal-Mart, of the top 125 highest-volume sellers, less than 10% were owned by a woman.

No chat with Fishbein would be complete with some decorating tips, and she###s happy to oblige. "A critical factor is balance," she says. "Make sure you don###t throw too much weight on one side of the room or the other. Apportion the weight of the furniture and colors so they are appropriate for the architecture and they play off each other.

"When accessorizing, use odd numbers-threes and fives of similar items are better than twos and fours.

"And last, people have a tendency to hang pictures too high."

In her spare time, Fishbein works out, plays golf, and travels. She was an ardent equestrian until she broke her back in a fall about a year ago. "I###m very lucky that I###m okay," she says.

It###s the end of the interview, and she hasn###t heard the four questions/comments she hears most often:

Do you change your furniture often?
Do you redo your house often?
You look better in person. (Ouch!)
Do you know Jake Jabs?

Good thing she has a sense of humor!