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Friday, August 1, 2014

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Power siblings work and play together

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Toronto condo developers Jessica and Shane Fenton visit the Kotel in Jerusalem during a summer trip to Israel in 2011.

For most siblings, the idea of working together can be a bit scary, but for Shane and Jessica Fenton, it’s just another day at the office.

“I can admit that I love working with my brother,” said Jessica.

“But she didn’t love walking to high school with me when she was in Grade 11 and I was in Grade 9,” Shane added with a laugh.

Shane, 28, and his older sister Jessica, 30, have taken their spots at the helm of their father’s real estate development company, Reserve Properties. Shane is the vice-president, and Jessica is the senior manager of marketing and client relations.

The sibling duo were primed to make their mark on the family business since they could walk and talk. “We were at our first groundbreaking when I was four and Jessica was six,” said Shane, adding that the development business has become “second nature” after so many years.

Shane joined Reserve Properties immediately after graduating from the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business six years ago. Jessica, who joined about a year ago, after completing an MBA at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, said that although she didn’t hop on board as quickly as her brother, she “always knew that [she] wanted to get into the business.”

Their fourth condominium launch of 2011 was a complex that will be built near their childhood neighbourhood of Spadina Avenue and St. Clair Avenue West in Toronto. The Rise Condominium project, like most of those that they work on, is geared toward young urban professionals, a demographic that the Fenton siblings relate to well. Jessica explained that it’s like building spaces where they and their friends would want to live.

When Shane and Jessica tackle a development project together, they are careful to play to their respective strengths, which helps them avoid any kind of sibling rivalry.

“Jessica is more the detail and I’m more the bigger picture,” said Shane, explaining that Jessica, who has a background in fashion, will often help with interior decorating choices. “I love the creative aspect,” said Jessica, adding that for the moment, her esthetic of choice is a “contemporary hotel” look.

“Just like fashion, the design element of real estate is always changing as well,” she said.

In keeping with his “bigger picture” preference, Shane finds his passion in scouting out possible building sites. Often, he will ride his bike around the city, getting a feel for the best places to start new development projects.

“When you’re driving around, you fly by too quick. When you’re biking, you get a different sense,” he said.

Understanding development on a human scale helps Shane build a connection with the project at hand. It’s the connection to the work and the enthusiasm that help him and his sister overcome any blips in the construction process.

“You kind of have to get used to getting good news and bad news multiple times throughout the day and plug on,” said Shane. “It’s something that’s a passion and a hobby more than just a career,” he added, explaining that loving what you do makes the challenges more fun.

The Fentons found that they work through challenges together very well, and they carry over their working relationship into philanthropic endeavours and community involvement, which they are both passionate about.

Both siblings are actively involved with the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee, as well as various UJA Federation of Greater Toronto initiatives in the young adult community. Jessica is also a co-chair of the Jewish National Fund’s young leadership board called JNF Future. She especially enjoys the event planning aspects of Jewish community work and is part of the committee planning the UJA’s Together party.

According to Jessica, her and Shane’s parents encouraged them to reach out to the Jewish community from a very young age.

“The one thing that they always said was that they wanted us to give back to the community,” said Jessica. Though her work schedule is hectic, she said she has no problem finding time for charity projects. “I enjoy it so much that I don’t feel like I have to squeeze it in,” she said.

Shane feels that the Jewish ethics and principles that their parents and grandparents instilled in them of tzedakah and community involvement don’t just affect their philanthropic work, but also their day-to-day lives.

“A lot of who we are as people ties into what our values and traditions were through Judaism,” he said.

Another important part of the siblings’ Jewish upbringing was the emphasis on Israel.               

“I’m incredibly passionate about Israel. Israel has always been important to my family,” said Jessica. She added that she and her brother often take summer vacations to the Holy Land, where they especially enjoy soaking up the sun on Tel Aviv’s beaches. “We love the culture and the people – just the vibe,” she said.

Spending time together on vacation, at work and in their philanthropic projects, one might think the Fenton siblings would start to get sick of each other, but they’re showing no signs of sibling rivalry.

Shane jokes that as kids, they were “enough for [their] parents to handle,” but as adults, their close-knit relationship is one any parent would be proud of.  “As we got older, we started to realize how much we have in common. Not only as brother and sister – we’re great friends.”

 

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