Wharton alumna Amy Yin, WG’02, recently won a National Designer of the Year Award from the Interior Design Society. This follows last year’s National Interior Design Society Designer of the Year Award. We caught up with Amy to learn more about how she’s combining her passions for design and business as owner and principal designer of Amy Yin Interiors in Short Hills, NJ, which is a “for benefit” company that donates all profits to charity. Here’s what she said:
Before I came to Wharton, I was a marketing director in the International Investments Unit at Prudential. I came to Wharton to better understand the financial side of the business and for the challenge.
However, during the EMBA program, I began thinking more about how to integrate the personal, professional, and civic aspects of my life. In particular, Prof. Terry LaPier’s Entrepreneurial Leadership class at Wharton inspired me to consider how I might align all of those areas and redefine success on my own terms.
After graduation, I attended Parsons New School of Design then decided to launch my own residential interior design studio. Now, my job is to help clients enjoy their homes (and all the life that happens within them) more. I get to create beauty and personalize design solutions for each client. But my studio is also a business, and running it feeds the part of me that loves competitive strategy and management. By donating our profits to charity and creating meaningful part-time jobs for local working moms, I am fulfilling my dream to do good in the world and share the good fortune I’ve had with others.
Like any other small business owner, my day-to-day job involves a lot of multi-tasking from reviewing business metrics to advising contractors to meeting with my staff to actually designing. To get it all done, I draw on my Wharton education nearly every day. Whether it is identifying our “unique value proposition,” evaluating risks, managing people, or developing our online presence, I’m either using direct knowledge from a Wharton class or the analytical skills that were honed there.
A good example of how I use my Wharton MBA involves my perspective on growth. During the last economic downturn, too many designers went out of business or were forced to retire early. They were overextended, overstaffed, and/or underpriced. In our financial analysis class, I remember learning that not all growth is sustainable or advisable when you are a small company without easy access to capital. As a result, I manage our cash flow carefully and take on only as much work as we can handle. The other benefit of this approach is the team can truly focus on the clients we do take on and give them the attention they need.
Another lasting lesson is from a marketing strategy class, which drove home the dangers of competing on price alone and trying to be all things to all people. Instead, I articulate the value we provide and focus on finding the right fit with clients for whom we know we can make a real difference. And with clients now able to access so much information online, pricing pressure is intense for furnishings. We don’t fight this trend. We embrace it and ask our clients how they would like to work with us when it comes to purchasing products.
As for donating our profits, I was inspired by Paul Newman and his company, Newman’s Own, to shift to a “for benefit” model last year. We kept our IRS status as a for profit business, established a donor-advised fund, and so far have donated over $20,000 to local nonprofits — including Homefirst, which provides transitional and low-income housing to homeless women and their children, and Good Grief and Imagine NJ, which both provide support programs to children who have had deaths in their immediate families. My goal is to give much more in the coming years.
At design school, I learned how to work with color, draw up plans, arrange furniture, etc. At Wharton, my professors and classmates gave me the knowledge, confidence, and inspiration to not only run a business, but to follow my own path. What more could you ask for from an advanced degree?