Building furniture and community

The gig: Francisco Pinedo, 53, is chief executive of Cisco Bros., a fast-growing manufacturer known for environmentally friendly design and practices in its home furnishings business. Carrying the Cisco nickname that Pinedo has answered to since his childhood in Mexico, six Cisco Home stores operate in California. The company’s furniture, which ranges in price from $595 to $12,000, also shows in a gallery at New York City’s ABC Carpet & Home. Revenue has been growing about 20% a year for the past five years, Pinedo said, and the company has branched into new products, including textiles. “We’re not contemporary or traditional,” he said. “We try to cover the entire architectural landscape of Los Angeles.”

Sustainable: Since founding his company in 1990, Pinedo has focused on using natural or reclaimed materials. His was one of the nation’s first furniture companies “to only use organic materials and certified, sustainable lumber only,” Pinedo said. All wood must come from a Forest Stewardship Alliance lumber provider that, among other practices, plants more trees than the supplier harvests. “It’s our line in the sand,” Pinedo said. “Do you know how many vendors that takes off the table? It makes everything simple. Don’t even bother making a pitch about becoming a supplier if you don’t meet our criteria.” 

In his blood: On the wall of his bedroom, Pinedo displays a cross carved by his grandfather from wood found in the small, impoverished village where the family lived in Jalisco. For Pinedo, the cross represents more than a shared talent for making things. It was a sign of how there is always something to create with even when money is tight. “There are materials everywhere,” Pinedo said. “There was always plenty of wood and stone and earth to work with.”

Hard work: Pinedo joined his father during summers, toiling on California’s farms as laborers. “It was really hard work, picking grapes in the sun and in the heat, all day,” Pinedo said. He added that it taught him “how tough life could be without either an education or a skill.” Pinedo followed his family to the U.S. when he was 13. He had no formal education and spoke no English. “Life there was built around the most basic human needs,” Pinedo recalled about his Mexican roots. “There were no jobs, very few opportunities. What we had was a respect for the land around us because that was all we had to sustain us.”

Pitching in: After less than four years of schooling in Los Angeles, Pinedo was forced to give up his educational pursuits to help his parents provide for his four younger siblings. Pinedo found a kind of classroom at houses where he helped his father work as a gardener. “You could tell what was well-made when the homeowner was ready to discard it,” Pinedo recalls of the cast-off furniture he would see “because someone came along and took it away very quickly.” Pinedo said he started pulling apart the furniture “and see how they were made. The things that were built to last were always made of the best natural materials.”

Getting ready: Pinedo began working full time for a furniture company while still in his teens. It was a steady job that even included a 401(k) retirement plan. But Pinedo was formulating something bigger. “Every raise my boss gave me, I never took it in my paycheck,” Pinedo said. “I put all of it into the 401(k). If I got the chance someday to start my own business, I wanted to be able to take advantage.”

Recessionary risks: When the 1990 recession cost Pinedo his job, he made a risky move. He took everything out of his retirement account, about $10,000 after penalties for early withdrawal. It turned out to be enough to begin the furniture operation. “Two customers said, ‘If you decide to go on your own into business, I’ll buy from you.’ That’s how we started.” Pinedo said he doesn’t think of his entrepreneurial leap as particularly risky considering “how tenacious my parents were. They were survivors. They did whatever was needed. I was going to have to do the same.”

All in the family: One of Pinedo’s brothers, Salvador, is the company’s wood-carving artist, and another brother, Martin, is the plant manager. Brother Jose owns Wise Living, which makes frames and other wood products that are carried at Cisco Home stores. Sister Rosie runs the Costa Mesa store. Pinedo’s eldest daughter, Maurishka, is creative director, and middle daughter, Natalie, is marketing coordinator. The youngest daughter, Amanda, doesn’t work for the company, which has more than 200 employees. 

Giving back: To help others who faced the same lack of education he did, Pinedo helped start a nonprofit program called  Making Education the Answer, or META, which gives scholarships to Latino students. The program tracks the 92 students who have been given college scholarships so far to make sure they are doing well. A second nonprofit, Refoundry, was developed by Pinedo and longtime friend Tommy Safan to teach furniture building to prison parolees, then goes a step further by teaching them how to sell what they have made. “Don’t make it pink,” Pinedo laughs, recalling the first piece of furniture he built as a teen. It was a bright pink chair. “Didn’t sell. Bright pink. You learn. Don’t do pink!”

Personal: Pinedo lives in San Marino with his wife, Alba. On the rare occasion that he has spare time, Pinedo said he can be found hiking.

ron.white@latimes.com

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