Most know Representative Randy Fine as a passionate new member of Brevard’s legislative delegation in Tallahassee and an outspoken proponent of cleaning up the Indian River Lagoon. What most do not know, is he started his first successful business to pay his tuition at Harvard and went on to build two other businesses that allowed him to retire at 40. As he put it, “For me, politics is my way of doing public service, this isn’t a career.”
EW: Your family has history here in Florida?
RF: Yes, I’m really a third generation Floridian. My father went into education, because he felt that was his best opportunity, as he was blind, and became a tenured professor of Metallurgical Engineering at the University of Kentucky. So that’s where I grew up.
EW: Then you went to Harvard?
RF: I did, but I was hardly the child of privilege, I lived on Ramen Noodles, until I got my first business up and going.
EW: Tell me about that?
RF: As a freshman I was trying to figure out a way to cover my tuition. I came up with an idea to calculate the cost to update to more energy efficient and lower maintenance energy solutions for the Universities older buildings. Things we take for granted today, like LED or energy efficient florescent lighting, along with calculating the saving and incentives the school would realize over time. The University liked the idea, along with other schools in the area, and I grew the business to about 100 employees.
EW: What then?
RF: I was accepted to Harvard Business School (HBS) after graduation. In fact, the only reason I immediately got in was because I had shown some acumen with my business as an undergrad. However, the schedule for graduate school didn’t have the flexibility I enjoyed as an undergrad, so I backed out of my business.
EW: You were a political science major as an undergrad, correct? So, you had the political
bug back then?
RF: I had been a congressional page when I was a junior in high school. But Congressman Bob Dornan once told me, ‘Randy, don’t do this job until you know how your mortgage will be paid.’ In other words, if you need an elected position to pay your bills, you will be focused on reelection, not your mission.
EW: Sage advice, so what did you do after Harvard?
RF: Right after business school I served as the right-hand man to the CEO of Circuit City on a startup venture. I learned a lot, particularly what not to do. Like, don’t be a corporate CEO and launch a startup at the same time, you have to focus on one thing and give it everything you have. Then a friend from HBS asked me to help him with a business that leveraged shopping data for retail grocery chains. After a few years we sold the intellectual property to the world’s largest supermarket company.
EW: Nice, then you did a third?
RF: I had worked really hard in my first two businesses and through school, and I thought, ‘Hey maybe I’m done.’ I was 28 years old and moved back to Florida. A year into that, a business professor of mine, who went to Las Vegas to be the COO of Harrah’s Entertainment (now Caesar’s Entertainment), called and asked me to do predictive modeling and analytics, much like what I had done in the grocery industry, for them. That led to a company which provided that information to casino’s around the world.
“I suppose my biggest surprise was how effective I became approaching this job the same way I approached my businesses, as an innovating, problem solving,
risk assessing entrepreneurial change agent.” – Randy Fine
EW: Didn’t Trump try and hire you?
RF: Yes, he flew me to New York, this was even before The Apprentice. He liked what I had done for Harrah’s, I thought I would get a client, but he wanted me to come to work for him.
EW: What was he like?
RF: He was much more gracious and personable than I had assumed. Very focused and driven, but I wasn’t interested, really in working for anyone. I’m not at all unhappy with my choices, but I do ask myself, what if?
EW: So, you married, had children, then what?
RF: I was working crazy hours, flying all over the world, which when you are single or even married without kids, is fine. But I knew my two sons would grow up fast and I wanted to be a part of that. When my oldest turned six and I turned 40, I decided to retire, again.
EW: Now you’re a State Representative, how did that come about?
RF: I was just enjoying life and enjoying my kids and one day my son came home from school and said, ‘Dad, I hate math.’ Well, he showed me a math paper, with the problem 9 + 6 = and he had written 15, but it was marked wrong. I thought, ‘In what reality does 9 + 6 not equal 15?’ So, I went to the principal, who explained that in ‘Common Core’ you didn’t memorize, you had to draw 9 squares + 6 circles to get 15, otherwise your answer is wrong, and nothing was going to change that.
You don’t tell an entrepreneur that there is only one way to do something or that something can’t be done. Then, two hours later I told my wife I wanted to run for public office. She said, ‘Great,’ though I think she just wanted to get me out of the house.
EW: What motives you as a legislator and what has surprised you?
RF: First, I ask myself how I will be judged 20 years from now, by my two most important constituents, my sons. When I was elected, I had never been to Tallahassee, nor did I know what the roles or process were. Most individuals there are semi-professional politicians. I suppose my biggest surprise was how effective I became approaching this job the same way I approached my businesses, as an innovating, problem solving, risk assessing entrepreneurial change agent.
I’ve learned a lot, particularly about filtering or regulating my comments. In business you can be outspoken, you need to be; in politics you have to be more careful.
EW: How did the Lagoon become such an important issue to you?
RF: When hurricane Irma came through, it led to 35 continuous days of sewage release into the Lagoon. Who moved here to experience that? In addition, what is more important for government to do, than manage infrastructure? There are a lot of opinions about what is causing the Lagoon problems and ideas about the solutions. But let’s be honest, before you can ask residents to cut down on fertilizer, you have to stop dumping millions of gallons of sewage, day after day, into the lagoon.