Giving the apparel industry a technological makeover with Luis Paez of Perry Ellis International, Inc.

Known as one of the largest men’s sportswear companies in the world, Perry Ellis International, Inc. is also a leading designer and distributor of women’s and children’s apparel, accessories, and fragrances. Currently flirting with the $1 billion-revenue mark, the company is at a place in the industry that many companies can only dream about. Such is the case with Perry Ellis CIO Luis Paez, a man who has led the successful implementation of a number of business systems that have permitted his company to prosper and gain a competitive advantage during a time when the apparel industry in the United States has been consolidating and shrinking. Hispanic Executive recently sat down with Paez to discuss the relentless work ethic that began as a child growing up in Miami and has propelled him throughout his career.

“I have never once had to say that I wanted to do this or that and that I needed money. They have always been right there, ready and willing to make the investment.” —Luis Paez
“I have never once had to say that I wanted to do this or that and that I needed money. They have always been right there, ready and willing to make the investment.” —Luis Paez

You have said that your whole life has prepared you for your current role as Perry Ellis’s CIO. In what ways do you believe this to be true?

When I was 11 years old, my family and I left Cuba and moved to Spain because of political reasons. We lived in Spain for three years before moving to the United States. I was always interested in finding ways to bring additional dollars in to help my family. When I was in the 10th grade, my father was very sick, and I ended up getting my first apparel job in Miami. I was working there 10 hours a day so my mother could take care of my father. As a kid, you just do what you have to do to make ends meet. Eventually, we received a court order saying that I needed to go back to school.

You entered a work program at your high school. What was that like?

It was at that time that I really started getting interested in electronics. I would attend school all day and then work from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. every night. I was growing up very quickly. I worked as a sewing-machine mechanic and also started to dabble with computers and how they were poised to really affect the apparel industry.

Executive Timeline

The career of Luis Paez

1977
Takes job at Suave Shoe

1978 
Begins his college career at Miami Dade Community College where he earns a degree in engineering

1983
Continues his education at University of Miami on an academic scholarship 

1986
Takes position as digital design engineer at GE Simulation & Control Systems

1990
Joins Suave Shoe as system engineering director

1994
Is named MIS director for Perry Ellis International, Inc.

2000 
Earns appointment to CIO of Perry Ellis, overseeing the company’s technology infrastructure 

2006 
Recognized as one of the top 100 most important Hispanics in technology and business by
Hispanic Engineer & Information Technology and Science Spectrum magazines

Eventually you continued your studies at the University of Miami, but you left apparel for flight simulators?

[Laughs] Yes, I did work with flight simulators for a while. The bottom line was my love for technology. Through the years, I worked with everything from robotics to fiber-optic networks to automation of payroll within a company.

How did you end up at Perry Ellis?

I was introduced to the current CEO of Perry Ellis, George Feldenkreis, and he wanted to hire me. Back in the early ’90s, I had a wife, child, and a house. So, of course, I was ready to listen to his offer. This company has been amazing to me from the very beginning. Back in 1994, this was a $50 million company. This fiscal year [ending in January 2012], we think we will hit $1 billion [at press time]. I have never once had to say that I wanted to do this or that and that I needed money. They have always been right there, ready and willing to make the investment.

You now spend much of your time mentoring public high-school students who are interested in the field of technology. Why is this so important to you?

I want to make technology exciting for young people. The Academy of Information Technology allows students who might not have had the funds to do so learn more about the great field of technology. Right now, if you are good, you will find a job in the technology field. I can’t find enough good people right now. We have a student in the program right now whose grades are certainly not the best, but is true Harvard material. Raised by a single mom, he just doesn’t have the time to put to his studies.

Does he remind you of yourself back in the day?

Perhaps. My parents have always been proud of me. Everyone just needs someone in their life to show them their inner power, and then provide guidance … and often, just a little push.

Get to know all of Hispanic Executive‘s “Best Of 2012” Recipients here.