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An Interview with MillerKnoll Furniture Expert Jesse Medina

Get to know MillerKnoll's Southern California Market Development Executive, Jesse Medina. We sat down for an interview with Jesse to discuss the workplace changes that have resulted from covid-19, his journey into the commercial furniture industry, and his favorite pastimes.

Jesse Medina

1. Tell me a little bit about yourself.

This month, I'm excited to share that I celebrate 15 years with Herman Miller, now MillerKnoll. My current job title is Market Development Executive and I have over 20 years total years in the industry. Personally, I have been married for 28 years and I have two girls – Maya and Monique. Maya is 16 and Monique is 32. I am also a proud grandfather of two beautiful grandkids. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I currently reside in Whittier, CA.

2. That is awesome! What were you doing before working with MillerKnoll?

My first entry into the furniture industry was Steelcase, where spent 6 years. Prior to working in the furniture industry, I spent another six years in finance at Prudential and that was my first corporate job. And believe it or not, my very first job was making cookies for Mrs. Fields (laughing)! I worked for Mrs. Fields for 3 years and even followed them to Vegas...it was fun! Let me know if you ever need some fresh baked cookies, I still got it!

3. I may take you up on that (laughing)! How did you first get into the commercial furniture industry and what drew you in?

At the time, I was working in finance and I was actually quite happy. I wasn't looking for another job. But a friend of mine told me about a job opening for a Showroom Manager at a new Steelcase dealership at Penn Station in Los Angeles and I was invited to stop by and check it out. From the moment I stepped into the showroom, I was stunned. I was completely mesmerized by the people and the energy, and I just couldn't believe that people worked in an environment like that. At my corporate finance job, I worked in a beige, clunky "cubicle farm." I just thought the showroom was so swanky and cool. After a few months, they made me an offer.

4. What was it like jumping from finance to commercial furniture?

It was a big change, a whirlwind. I still remember my first day vividly. I jumped right in. I learned a lot working there - about how to treat people, demeanors, and the sales experience. I am so grateful for this experience.

5. How did you end up at MillerKnoll?

After 10 years with Steelcase, they had major layoffs - they were known as the Dot Com bubble layoffs. You are probably too young to know what that is! Many companies began to go virtual and internet-related companies were abundant, and e-toys became very popular. Anyway, after I was laid off, I decided to switch things up and get my real estate broker's license. Made some good money, but then predatory lending began happening and there was a lot of fraud in the industry. It didn't feel stable for me at this time and my wife didn't want me to continue down this career path, so one day, she saw an opening at Herman Miller for an Operations Manager and she submitted my resume without me knowing. The rest is history!

6. What do you do in your role as a Sales Market Executive for Miller Knoll?

I work in sales supporting the Southern California market, and I act like a swiss army knife. My job is to be involved with the entire client sales process – from forecasting to logistics, to negotiating pricing and contracts anywhere from $1 to $100,000,000.

7. What do you enjoy most about what you do?

The people I work with. We are working with like-minded people who all want the same thing. I feel that I work with the most talented people in the industry. We always give 140%. It's always yes we can, absolutely.

8. What makes you so passionate about furniture?

It's not just furniture. It's an environment. It's where all of the magic happens for companies and it's so important to the prosperity and culture of a company.

9. Are there are new or upcoming products that you are excited about?

Herman Miller's new OE1 Workspace Collection is probably the one I am most excited about. This comprehensive line has something for everyone. It's built to last and offers some very fun colors that can enhance the decor.

10. What is the biggest change in the field you have seen since you started?

I would say the biggest change I have experienced is this "specialist" culture that has emerged as a result of technology and social media. You are seeing all different types of specialists - life coaches, bloggers, vloggers, interior designers, DIYers, etc. People who claim to be experts, but don't have any educational background, experience, or certifications to back it.

11. What changes have you seen as a result of covid specifically?

I would say two things. Number one is the adaptability of the workplace and people realizing they can work anywhere specifically. Today's hybrid worker has choices. Organizations realize that they need to give people choice, or they will leave. The office is a connection place, but smart organizations are allowing their workers to do the work wherever they please. That itself is a huge change. Where people are traditionally used to punching a card in from 8-5, the lines have become blurred. Workers today are working wherever and whenever they please as long as their work is getting done. Secondly is lead times. This has been a huge challenge we have been battling. Lucky for us, we manufacture our product in the U.S. so we haven't been as impacted as some of our competitors.

12. Do you believe that the traditional office is dead?

Yes. I think the traditional landscape where you are required to work at the same location from 8-5 is dated. Today's companies need to offer lifestyle choices, options, and opportunities. The modern office is now a connectivity station. It's a collaborative hub where you go to meet and greet. Today's office contains unassigned workstations that allow people to "touch down" as needed. People can now share the space and use it how they want.

13. Do you think companies still need an office if people can work wherever, whenever?

Absolutely. The office fosters creativity, aspirations, a safety net where people feel accomplished. It builds culture and provides an experience for employees and clients alike. People are seeking an experience when looking for organizations to work with and the office is one way to give it to them. The reality of full-time working-from-home is setting in for people, and they are seeking connection.

14. Has there been anyone who has had a memorable impact or influence on your career journey?

There have been quite a few, but two people stand out - RJ Stelter and Candice Young. RJ Stelter was brought into the company while I was already there, and he really shook things up. He has given me a new perspective on what is possible and he has also impacted my career trajectory. He is such an amazing motivator and helps people become the best of who they are – personally and professionally. He is also very creative and thinks "outside of the box" for solutions. Candice Young was my old boss and she is both an excellent leader and an overall excellent person. She cares about each of the people she works with for who they are as a person and not just their productivity levels. She wants to know who you are and what is important so she can help get you there. She pushed and inspired me to go back to school, which is something I have been wanting to do for a long time.

15. Do you have a favorite piece of furniture?

I love the Eames Walnut Stool. The craftsmanship that goes into making them is insane. Nine pieces of wood interlock with each other and it doesn't have any screws. When you see it put together, it is astonishing. I also love my Eames Lounge and Ottoman with tan Dream Cow Edelman Leather. I sit in it every single day.

16. What are some of your favorite pastimes?

One of my favorite past times is Overlanding. It's a rugged, off-roading camping trip in very remote locations that have rarely been previously explored. You need a 4-wheel drive vehicle. You get to go where most people can't. I usually go with a group of 30 friends and we cook, drink and connect. I love the experience, and I love being off the grid.

17. Any favorite or recent international travel destinations?

Just went to Ibiza with my wife and some friends and it was incredible. Lots of partying and a truly beautiful place to be. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget.

18. Do you have any side hobbies?

I race and restore old motorcycles. I co-own a vintage motorcycle shop called Formula 750 with my brother. We restore old bikes from the 70s and bring them back to glory. We get barnyard finds and turn them into gems with incredible value. Each year, we get invited to a very prestigious motorcycle show in Austin, Texas, called The Handbuilt Motorcycle Show, and we take great pride in that. Only the top craftsmen in the industry are invited to be a part of this show. I also race the Laguna Seca café racer series.

19. Anything that people might be surprised to learn about you?

One of my favorite things to do is get manis and pedis with my girls! TopLine Nails is my spot and Sara’s my girl! My wife usually doesn’t come because she’s always in a rush and we like to take our time and talk. We usually eat lunch after and make a whole day out of it.

20. How did you stay busy during covid when everything shut down?

My wife and I raised some baby ducks. We incubated them and watched them hatch into little ducklings. We have a pool so they would swim in it and we had them for about a year until they flew away and relocated. This is what they do when they reach a certain age. It was a blast!

21. Coffee or tea?

Coffee - the blacker the better.

22. Favorite type of food?

Mediterranean food. I love the fresh ingredients they use and it reminds me of my travels to Greece, which were spectacular.

23. Do you have a favorite local spot?

My favorite restaurant Pho-Ha.

24. Fave movie?

Shawshank Redemption.

25. Drink of choice (alcoholic or non)?

My favorite drink of choice is an old-fashioned. I'm also a die-hard Coca-Cola fan.

26. What’s the first thing you would buy if you won the lottery?

A Herman Miller dealership. It's my dream to own one.

27. Do you have any pets?

Two dogs – a pomeranian and a chihuahua. I also have a kitty.

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