Oscar Feldenkreis learned early in life that he wouldn’t be entitled to anything. It may seem like a harsh reality, but it’s the same one his father, George, built upon when he immigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1961. Though Oscar now sits beside his father at the healm of Perry Ellis International, he once labored in the warehouses of Supreme International, the apparel business George founded, which would eventually expand and take the Perry Ellis International name. Unpacking boxes and learning every step of the apparel-making process, from design concept to department store racks, gave young Oscar the knowledge he needed to be the effective leader he is today.
Building a business from the ground up is a full-time job. When Oscar celebrated his bar mitzvah, his father’s gift was to bring him to work. “I took Oscar to Asia, so he would understand why my work kept me away for six to eight weeks at a time,” George says.
George may not have known the scale to which his company would eventually grow, but when Oscar showed an interest in the family business, he wanted to make sure his son was prepared to realize his potential. “I always had a passion for the apparel industry,” says Oscar.
If his son’s ambition was to one day be a leader in his father’s company, George stressed to Oscar the importance of knowing how to do every job in the company better than anyone he could hire to do it. “We weren’t blessed to start at the top,” says Oscar, “we were blessed to start at the bottom.” Gaining an understanding of the production side of the business, Oscar began grooming himself for success.
That behind-the-scenes knowledge proved valuable to the growing retailer. In 1980 Oscar urged his father to change the company’s strategy. “I recognized that the only way to really compete would be to brand our apparel,” says Oscar. “Developing our own brands in-house, allowed us to build our platform and diversify our strategy.”
Oscar’s keen intuition and business acumen led Supreme International to acquire $300 million in brands, go public on the NASDAQ in 1993, and acquire Perry Ellis in 1999.
Since changing it’s name following the acquisition, Perry Ellis International (PEI) has added 14 other brands and licenses to its apparel portfolio. 2013 was a transformational year for the company as it exited a considerable portion of the private label business it held. Though the move cost PEI approximately eight percent of its sales revenue, it left room for the business to grow in other channels, focusing its efforts on those brands that are booming, such as Rafaella and Jack Nicklaus.
One thing that the Feldenkreis men say has not changed is the family-run company dynamic. For George, being able to build his company alongside his children is a wonderful privilege. Now with his own children growing with the family business, Oscar is following in his father’s footsteps in more ways than one. “Working with my daughter has been fantastic, and having my father alongside me is invaluable,” Oscar beams. “He has been our leader and continues to be my mentor.”