Being the proverbial fish out of water is an uncomfortable situation for most people, but it seems to suit George Feldenkreis just fine. Four decades ago Feldenkreis was a near-penniless Cuban immigrant in Florida, scraping together an income from various importing activities. Fast forward to July of this year, when Feldenkreis, now the chief executive officer of Perry Ellis International, found himself in Barcelona, once again a foreigner seeking a foothold in a new, opportunity-rich market. He was in Spain to oversee the sales of his company’s Original Penguin apparel line to European retailers attending the Bread & Butter trade show. “We’re making great strides with the brand in Europe,” he reports, clearly proud of the success. “It’s positioned very highly, and sells at stores like Selfridges and Harrods.”
To Feldenkreis, talk of luxury retailers in Europe comes just as easily as stories of his early exploits selling screws and other hardware. Both point to his mastery of entrepreneurship and demonstrate that his forte is strategic planning and recognizing opportunity—one develops the impression that he could sell just about anything with some measure of success. It is this wily business sense that has led Feldenkreis to where he is today—celebrating 40 years of the Miami-based company he started from almost nothing. Perry Ellis International has undergone almost as many changes as the fashion industry itself, yet the constant factor has been the leadership provided by George Feldenkreis, and, beginning in the early 1980s, that of his son Oscar, who is now PEI’s president and chief operating officer. Together, the Feldenkreises have built a highly diversified, publicly traded apparel giant that has the rare distinction of being focused almost exclusively on men’s wear. The company recently racked up annual revenues of more than $800 million (see “PEI At-a-Glance” sidebar), and the Feldenkreises have earned the respect of the industry at large.
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